I don’t know, man. Compared to the original cover, this one seems pretty staid. I suppose gravestones could be considered generically Halloween-y, and this cover does evoke a certain mood, but it tells me nothing about the book, whose main feature is a house that’s kind-of sort-of haunted. Point definitely wins this round of cover wars, just by virtue of having an image that’s relevant to the story. Relevance is always a big plus.
Trick or Treat, Cusick’s second novel for Point, opens with sixteen-year-old Martha and her dad driving to their new house in the country town of Bedford (there’s one pizza place that stays open to 11pm sometimes, huzzah!), complete with Matha’s new stepmother Sally and her new stepbrother Conor. Sally and Conor weren’t exactly included with the house, but near enough as Martha doesn’t seem to know them very well–this new-style family must have resulted from a whirlwind romance between the parental units. They met, they canoodled, they introduced their kids (briefly) and then bang! They bought a decrepit old haunted house in the country.
The house looked strangely ghostlike, rising up through pale wisps of fog, its dark stone walls and chimneys interwoven with bare, twisted trees…its gables crawled with dead ivy, its tattered awnings drooping like eyelids hiding secrets. Like something in a dream, not quite real. Not quite safe….
Foreshadowing! But seriously, I love this house already. And so does Martha’s dad, who likes horror and writes ‘human interest stories’, which is pretty nondescript but in the book seems to mean weird stuff. Martha, sadly, disagrees with her dad and me; she thinks the house is weird. She thinks her hot-as-balls stepbrother is weird. She doesn’t think about her stepmother much at all. Because she’s kind of self-obsessed. And a total wimp.
She hated this house. Hated it. She’d never liked scary things. She’d never understood dad’s macabre sense of humor or his fascination with the unknown, or the articles he was always researching and writing for those dumb human interest magazines.
Sorry, Martha, but I don’t think we’re gonna get along. We’re just…too different.
And she hated herself–it was horrible being sixteen and such a baby.
Looks like there’s something we agree on after all.
In classic Point style, about a day or two after the happy family moves into their brand-new haunted house in the middle of a haunted forest outside of Hicksville, USA, dad and Sally fuck off to Hawaii for three weeks and never bother to call their kids even once.
Livin’ the dream.
As Conor and Martha acclimate to their new rural digs and small-town high school, Martha attracts some unwanted attention from the local welcoming committee in the form of scary prank phone calls, being followed…and did she really see someone standing in the closet last night? Is this all down to the ghost of a girl who was killed in Martha’s new house just a year before, or could the killer still be at large? The school Halloween dance is in just a few weeks, and it’s the anniversary of the murder…
I really wanted to enjoy this book. I think I liked it when I read it as a kid, but this time I just couldn’t get past Martha and her strange persecution complex. You wanna see weird, Martha? Look in the mirror. Weird is screaming your head off every time someone opens a door or speaks to you, even before actual weird stuff starts happening. Weird is being so self-obsessed you can’t see straight and yet everyone inexplicably wants to be your friend or boyfriend. Martha is the original Bella Swan, and she ruined the hell out of this Halloween-set horror novel for me. Thanks for crapping all over two of my favourite things, Martha. You gonna go kick some kittens, too? Or just scream in their tiny adorable confused faces?
‘Weird’ Conor, however, is not so much weird as smart and funny and caring. And all the girls at school lurve him.
‘Haven’t you noticed how everyone’s been lusting after him?’
I have to admit I almost felt for Martha here. This actually literally happened to me when my brother and I changed high schools in our senior year. One day some girl just casually mentioned how everyone was all in love with my mutant sibling (who, objectively speaking, is pretty good-looking), and I was like, ‘Has the world gone mad?!’ It’s kind of the worst thing ever when you’re a high-school girl with a brother in the same school.
But after almost feeling for her, I returned to my senses, because she’s a dick. I find it a bit odd that Cusick chose to give the main character in a horror novel for girls a hatred for all things horror and a spine made of a Jello pudding pops, but I suppose variety is a good thing. Or can be, if well handled. Maybe I’d be more amenable if she were a little more open-minded as well, not so quick to pronounce everything weird or stupid.
I’d have to give this book 2 out of 5 mouldy jack o’lanterns, mostly for the supporting characters and the trappings of Halloween. And, of course, for introducing me to my dream house. But overall, I think you could give it a pass and be no worse for its omission.
If you’re looking for a solid Halloween-based horror novel (for adults), I’d recommend Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest. It’s not just set at Halloween, it’s about Halloween, and creates it’s own little rural mythos that’s terribly sinister and quite exciting.