In his follow up to the highly acclaimed Rotters (a Bram Stoker Award finalist), Daniel Kraus deftly explores the self-perpetuating legacy of domestic violence with the harrowing Scowler, a novel so unrelentingly bleak, it stretches the very definition of YA horror. After sadistic patriarch Marvin Burke is sent to prison following a spree of grisly violence, his 11-year-old son Ry struggles to keep the family farm intact with the help of his mother and little sister. Eight years later, rumors of a prison break foretell Martin’s return to the farm, and every member of the Burke family must dig deep to combat his evil intentions.
As a premiere author of YA horror, Kraus’s evolution has been fast and furious. As good as Rotters was (and it was, indeed, very good), Scowler is a marked improvement, an indication of Kraus’s virtually unlimited potential. Delacorte Press (a division of Random House) will release the novel in hardcover on March 12. Read on for the full review.
In Marvin Burke, author Daniel Kraus has created one of the most compellingly evil characters in recent memory. Sequestered on a remote farm, miles from the nearest neighbor, Marvin is free to subject his wife and two children to all manner of abuse, both emotional and physical. When a stunning act of violence against his mother leads 11-year-old Ry to revolt, father and son are pitted each other in a grueling cat and mouse game through the surrounding woods. To survive the chase, young Ry employs the assistance of his imaginary friends––a trio of treasured toys, each with it’s own personality. Stuffed bear Mr. Furrington provides humor and sympathy, while the rubbery, malleable Jesus dispenses sage wisdom and comfort. But it’s the dirty, wiry-skeletoned Scowler that allows Ry to eventually gain the advantage.
Eight years later, an explosion at the nearby Bluefeather high security prison allows Marvin to escape back to the family farm. Unprepared for his return, the Burke family is caught off guard, but a sudden meteor crash turns the tables. As the Burkes scheme and manipulate in a struggle to survive, Kraus gleefully tightens the thumbscrews in a grueling escalation of tension and violence. And by grueling, I mean grueling. Admittedly, I haven’t read a load of juvenile horror since I discovered Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew at age 11, but Scowler‘s brand of violence seems particularly disturbing considering its intended audience of young adults. Kraus simply refuses to pull punches.
What’s most remarkable about Scowler is that it not only works, it works in several different ways. As an exploration of the enduring legacy of domestic violence, it manages to expose the cyclical nature of abuse without ever seeming exploitative. (Although it is, at times, brutally graphic.) Kraus’s story also functions as a look at how intense trauma can fracture and eventually break the human psyche, as seen through the eyes of the fragile, tormented Ry and his three imaginary friends. But above all, Scowler is a hard-edged tale of teenage survival, told with a grim-faced respect for the real life horrors that lurk behind closed doors.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Skulls
Cover Art: Vincent Chong