It’s been so long since I’ve done an actual book review that I almost forgot the format I put them in! Scary!
Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The community of Cryer’s Cross, Montana (population 212) is distraught when high school freshman Tiffany disappears without a trace. Already off-balance due to her OCD, 16-year-old Kendall is freaked out seeing Tiffany’s empty desk in the one-room school house, but somehow life goes on… until Kendall’s boyfriend Nico also disappears, and also without a trace. Now the town is in a panic. Alone in her depression and with her OCD at an all-time high, Kendall notices something that connects Nico and Tiffany: they both sat at the same desk. She knows it’s crazy, but Kendall finds herself drawn to the desk, dreaming of Nico and wondering if maybe she, too, will disappear…and whether that would be so bad. Then she begins receiving graffiti messages on the desk from someone who can only be Nico. Can he possibly be alive somewhere? Where is he? And how can Kendall help him? The only person who believes her is Jacian, the new guy she finds irritating…and attractive. As Kendall and Jacian grow closer, Kendall digs deeper into Nico’s mysterious disappearance only to stumble upon some ugly—and deadly—local history. Kendall is about to find out just how far the townspeople will go to keep their secrets buried.
Thoughts: If this book was an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark, it would have been called The Tale of the Haunted Desk. The story in this book is a fairly simple concept with an interesting execution: a sleepy town with little to say for itself ends up with some big news when multiple teenagers go missing, upsetting everyone but most notably Kendall, a teenage girl with fairly disruptive OCD. After Kendall’s boyfriend goes missing and Kendall starts noticing strange messages show up on the desk where he sat at school, she starts to realise that there’s far more going on than meets the eye.
Breaking up the chapters that are mostly from Kendalls point of view are short page-long snippets by a frantic and obsessive voice. It quickly becomes obvious that the voices are connected to the disappearing teens, though what they say is vague enough that how and why they’re connected isn’t entirely clear, which is a definite point in McMann’s favour. Keeping the reader interested and somewhat in the dark is essential for a good mystery, driving them onward to discover what ties all the clues together.
As the story progresses, Kendall herself starts getting influenced by the voices, possessed by the intent behind them. As we discover later, intent is, by and large, what the voice are, at least to an extent. The desk isn’t possessed by a particular ghost but rather the pain that was felt as disturbed boys were made to bent over it while being whipper, sometimes to death, by a sadistic teacher at the school where the desk was first used. In an attempt to find solace, the pain infected those who sat at the desk, eventually forcing them to bury themselves alive as the sentient pain tried to find a release. it’s a fascinating concept, and I think McMann did a wonderful job of conveying the brutality and just what can come of abuse even after the abused and abusers are long gone from the world.
I was particularly impressed by McMann’s handling of OCD, though upon finding out that her own daughter has the condition, that isn’t too surprising. Given that I took have more than just a slight touch of it myself, I could relate to Kendall very well, could see the logic in her illogical compulsions (when you’re forced to stop walking and tap your feet in a certain rhythm until a sense of balance and rightness returns to your body, or when you can’t eat a sandwich without first tearing into specific sections, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when I say that). Particularly interesting was that in the end, it was Kendalls OCD that played a part in saving her life, her compulsions overriding the strength to which she was possessed by the voices of pain. I liked how OCD wasn’t protrayed as some freaky thing that did nothing but ostracize people and turn them into freaks, but rather as a legitimate condition that needed handling, needed dealing with, and occasionally can be useful.
This is defininitely a book worth picking up. The distant tone it’s written it can sometimes be a detriment to really getting into the story, but the pace is quick and smooth enough to mostly make up for that, and the characters are interesting and complete. Very good for fans of YA paranormal novels, for those looking for a good haunting that can be both simple and complex.