Un-Horror: The Devils You Know by MC Atwood
I don’t know that I’ve ever read YA horror before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found in The Devils You Know by MC Atwood was rather odd—Scooby-Doo meets The Breakfast Club with a little funhouse thrown in for kicks.
I loved some things: descriptions were vivid and created a strong visual image without seeming clunky or going on and on. The characters were largely distinct from one another—I has very few moments where I forgot which point of view I was reading. And the story undoubtedly held my interest, both the external conflict and the internal issues of each character.
As for what I loved less—that same internal conflict that held my interest was presented in the typical (and to me somewhat manipulative) way of character X mentions (via internal narration) that he/she has a secret—something they don’t want to remember or think about or tell the reader, right now at least—that we all know will be revealed eventually. We know it’ll be a game-changer, a real doozie, a huge reveal, but we just have to wait. So we wait. And in a few cases the big secret is actually a pretty big deal. For a couple of characters it’s laughably not. A promise/payoff violation.
I also didn’t love the set up. You can’t convince me in any universe that high school seniors would not leap at the chance to trade final exams for a one-day field trip. Yet it was set up as the hard sell, the trip no one would willingly take. Truly, who would pick days of exams and long nights of studying over a one-day visit to a creepy museum?
The museum itself, while fascinating, felt a little flat and trope-ish to me. The horror felt repetitive and purposeless, random. I found myself wanting more meaning to the madness. Like, why so many dolls? And the physical gore… somehow I knew (spoiler alert), just knew there’d be a Magical Wardrobe ending (a la CS Lewis), where the characters escape and all their crazy injuries disappear. This greatly diminished any actual fear/horror. Probably good since I don’t usually do horror.
In the end the book was still one I had trouble putting down. One possible way to read it is as a farce, a mockery of the genre with all its melodrama and whatnot although I’m not sure this was the author’s intention. I like it better reading it that way, so that's how I'm going to think of it: a hysterical look at horror at its, um, finest!