As the House’s reputation grew, the local legend dimmed until there was but a spark of its real story left. Only a few of the elders remembered the legends, but as is true for all generations, their words became an inside joke to their younger relatives, a reason to put them in the nursing home.
Still there were some people, young and old, who knew for certain the stories were true. There were some who entered the House and never came out at all.
Because Maxwell Cartwright Jr. never stopped collecting.
—The Devils You Know, by Megan Atwood
Behind this somewhat bland cover is a book that is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. And by bananas, I mean a complete blast—familiar in a way that will scratch the horror itch, but still so unpredictable that it prompted me to say “WHAAAAAAAT” aloud. Multiple times. In a good way.
There have been dark legends about Boulder House for decades, but it’s no longer a place to avoid—now it’s a tourist destination. People visit in part for the architecture, but mostly for the collections of the architect—collections of dolls, of animatronics, of armor and taxidermy and multiple carousels. The seniors of Red River High are given a choice: field trip or finals. And, let’s be real—how many high school seniors are really going to choose finals?
Five students—a Mean Girl, a Nice Girl, a Jock, and two Freaks—end up separated from their classmates and on their own in the House. At first, of course, they are loath to stick together—two of them are long-time enemies, two of them are crushing on one another, two of them are dating, one of them is in unrequited love with another, all of them have Big Secrets—but when the House makes it clear that it doesn’t intend to let them go, they realize that they’re going to need to work together.
It is, first and foremost, a horror story. And there is plenty of horror to be had.
But it’s also a story about appearances, about assumptions, about identity and the importance of allowing ourselves to be ourselves, and about the masks we choose to wear—to make life easier, to hide insecurity and shame, to avoid offense, to get through the day with as little conflict as possible. It’s about looking past the labels we are given as well as the labels we claim, and it doesn’t just play with and deconstruct tropes—it plays with and deconstructs tropes within tropes.
All five characters take turns narrating, so there’s a constant rotation of external and internal views and perception—because of the masks that we all wear, hugely emotional internal moments don’t always look quite as earth-shattering from the outside. Different readers will, no doubt, have different favorite voices—mine was, probably predictably, Ashley the Mean Girl:
Kaleigh, Jane, and Madison are waiting on the other side of the front doors. I don’t even look at them when I come in, but they follow behind me anyway. We are such a ‘90s teen movie, it’s like we’re playing pretend. Seriously. But know what? It works. I know what to expect from people, and they know what to expect from me. Better to be on top than to have nuance. Nuance is for losers.
Partly because I can never seem to get enough different takes on exploring that archetype, and partly because she’s stubborn and a survivor and I love her for it.
The voice that people are most likely to have a hard time with? Dylan, who sounds like he learned to speak Teen by watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on repeat for the last seventeen years—which would have made some sort of sense if he’d grown up cloistered away from any peers, but his backstory is entirely different. He’s hard to take at first, but eventually he proves to be such a Good Egg that I think he’ll win most readers over.
As the story goes on, as their secrets are revealed, The Devils You Know becomes not just about the relationships between these five teens, not just their understanding of themselves, but about their fears and frustrations with the larger world. With prejudice, with poverty, with injustice, with hypocrisy.
It’s a book that can be read and enjoyed on multiple levels—for the straight-up scares, for the ever-unfolding and deepening characterization and relationship dynamics, and for the commentary on culture and media and politics. It’s smart, it’s dark, it’s honest, and—I can’t believe I haven’t already mentioned this—it’s FUNNY.
OH, AND DID I MENTION THAT THERE ARE KILLER DOLLS? Well. There you go. Case closed; this book is rad.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.