Book Review: “Hometown Haunts: #LoveOzYA Horror Tales” (@WakefieldPress @PoppyNwosu @EasternRegional)

Hometown Haunts: #LoveOzYA Horror Tales (Wakefield Press, November 2021), edited by Poppy Nwosu

Hometown Haunts is a collection of 14 short horror stories for young adult readers. Edited by Poppy Nwosu to feature some of Australia’s best established and emerging YA authors, it is the first #LoveOzYA publication to focus exclusively on the horror genre,

As Nwosu describes it. horror is often used ”as a mirror to reflect our times and enable us to piece together things that are difficult to understand”. Indeed, our world is and will always be unfathomable and unpredictable.

Hence the book is designed to match our times, to be consumed by “a new generation of Australian teens – who are growing up and coming of age in tis current climate of uncertain health and environment, and interrupted daily life”.

The book can challenge adult readers as well: What, exactly, unsettles us as parents? What is it that we fear for our children? How can we help young people remain hopeful for their future amidst the chaos all around us?

There are universal themes in this collection. For example, in Vikki Wakefield’s “Heart-shaped Stone”, the protagonist seeks vengeance on behalf of her bullied friend. In Sarah Epstein’s “Stop Revive Survive”, the Australian landscape takes on a sinister edge. In Nwosu’s “Nature Boy”, the main character is half-horrified, half-fascinated by the notion of death. In Emma Osborne’s “Slaughterhouse Boys”, to enter adulthood is to confront meat and blood.

Other stories are subtle, illustrating the anxiety and angst of our times. For example, traditional beliefs are juxtaposed with contemporary instincts and reflexes in Jared Thomas’s “Seek and Destroy”, Lisa Fuller’s “Don’t Look!”, and Marianna Shek’s “Hunger”. In Felix Wilkins’s “Best Years of Your Life”, metamorphosis occurs when the protagonist fails to cope with life. In Margot McGovern’s “Euryhaline”, a talented athlete is crushed by her own ambition.

Especially noteworthy are two graphic stories, with Emma Preston’s “It’s Quiet Now” depicting monsters lurking around cities and residential areas during the COVID lockdown. Michelle O’Connell’s “Do I See It All Now?” is equally gripping, inspired by her experience of growing up being neurodivergent and undiagnosed.

In particular, this reviewer enjoys Alison Evans’s “Angel Eyes” and Holden Sheppard’s “Rappaccini’s Son”.

In “Angel Eyes”, those who are wolf within are hunted by angels, winged creatures radiating light and heat. Demanding that the wolves “repent” – or face “cleansing” – the angels punish those deemed “abnormal” and “different” by infesting them with eyes that spread over their skin..

Meanwhile, in writing “Rappaccini’s Son”, Sheppard explains: “What most horrified me growing up was the prospect of doing the wrong thing… My biggest fear as a teenager was that my core was rotten; that I was a bad boy; deviant, rude, weird, unlikeable, not good enough.” The author confronts such fear by allowing his protagonist to embrace who he really is. The resulting story is dark and rebellious, yet there is love and hope.

Hometown Haunts is suitable for readers aged 13 and above. It is a must read for teenagers and those who want to understand them.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “Anxiety and angst in full haunting display” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, April 26, 2022, P.17.

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