Debut novelist Morton tells a gloriously macabre young-adult tale about the difficulties of being a teenage ghoul in the 1970s.
Howard and his family are ghouls. Scientifically, all that means is that their bodies don’t produce certain hormones and enzymes. But Howard’s father has been training him since age 11 in the practical side of their heritage: They need to dig up and eat freshly dead bodies to make up for their own bodily deficiencies. After Howard is orphaned by a murderous mob on his 17th birthday, he flees Georgia for New Jersey and searches out his grandmother—also a ghoul, because the condition is genetic. Granny disagreed with Howard’s parents on many things; for example, she considers “digging for food” low class. (She worked as a nurse who took her work home with her, so to speak.) If she and Howard are going to live under the same roof, Howard is going to have to adapt to a new way of life—including graduating from high school. As the fall semester begins, he starts his senior year at Pinebury High, home of some particularly sadistic bullies. Right away, the jocks forcibly seat Howard at what they call the “nerds and fags” table in the cafeteria. Here, Howard meets oddballs and outcasts who will become his friends, including a frustrated musician named Sebastian who turns Howard on to a new genre of music made for people on society’s fringe: punk rock. Morton successfully pairs the darker aspects of life in high school with the lighter aspects of cannibalism, including details that range from humorous, poignant reflections on monster movies to quirky details of grave robbing. Howard’s very human struggle to find acceptance explores whether being a monster is in fact a choice. The plot starts to decay three-quarters of the way through with a series of improbable events, but Morton satisfyingly finishes the story off before it goes bad. The ending will likely leave readers happy and delightfully disturbed.
Once readers dig up this clever supernatural YA story, they likely won’t want to put it down.