Review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith DonohueThe Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue
Published by Picador on October 7th 2014
Pages: 288
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Literary, Occult & Supernatural
eARC provided by Copy provided by publisher via NetGalley

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Stolen Child comes a hypnotic literary horror novel about a young boy trapped inside his own world, whose drawings blur the lines between fantasy and reality.Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy's only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.In the tradition of The Turn of the Screw, Keith Donohue's The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a mesmerizing tale of psychological terror and imagination run wild, a perfectly creepy read for a dark night.

Reading time 9 mins

Seaside Maine in the winter is scary enough. Add in a boy who can draw things to life and you have a horror that is hard to put down. The Boy Who Drew Monsters is eerie and haunting. It kept me awake at night. Ten year old Jack has Aspergers and never goes outside anymore. His Dad, Tim, is a stay at home Father. His best and only friend Nick is his parents best friends kid. They have been friends since birth. When strange things start happening we follow Tim and Holly(Jack’s Mom) as they try to deal with their son’s withdrawal from the world outside. When Nick comes to stay over winter break things get out of control. Nick knows Jack’s secret. His drawings won’t be contained anymore. 

The book starts off with his mother trying to rouse him from sleep and she ends up with a black eye. From there we are introduced to Nick, Jack’s only friend as he visits and plays with Jack. Their relationship is estranged since an incident where they both nearly drown. The story follows Nick and Jack through their prior obsessions with games and army men to Jack’s current obsession, drawing. Jacks drawings come to life and it is all bad for those around him. Strange things start happening to Molly, Tim and Nick and they don’t see that Jack is the reason. Until it is almost too late.

This book has really well developed characters. There are no gaps in this tale from the birth of Jack all the way to the present. He is a strange boy, not easy to love. Even his own Mother reaches out to a priest for help with him. Seeing the priest brings up more questions than answers. Molly is drawn to an old painting depicting a ship that sank near her home in the early 1900’s. His Dad, Tim, stays with Jack almost all the time and sees much more hope for the boy. No doctor or church leader could make him give up on him. Jack will be reach-able, he will get back to normal if possible with his dad’s help. Tim starts to see things that may or may not be there. When a skeleton is found on the beach Molly’s fears of the long dead come to fruition.

The writing is mature and the story is easy to follow. I loved the quiet build up of scary that this author lured me into. There are a few adult type themes, skeletons in his parent’s closet, that make this story unsuitable for children. This story is eerie right up to the ending sentence, when Holly is forced to see the truth about her son. I finished this book about an hour ago and I know the story will haunt me for the next few weeks.

Excerpt

Monster under the bed. Turning back the bedspread, Tim fell to his knees and peeked beneath the mattress. Squatting like a dried toad were a pair of swimming trunks in the shadows. He strained to reach them and recoiled when he touched the calcified folds and creases. As he dragged the stiff cloth across the floor, a trail of sand spilled out. In the pockets were four hermit crab shells reeking of the sea. He poked at the little bodies one by one but they did not flinch. Some monsters. The Rothmans must not have noticed when they packed up for the season, and that the cleaning crew must have neglected to look under the bed was no surprise to Tim, for they were quick and careless, often leaving behind surprises for him to remedy. He set the swimming trunks and the dead crabs next to the scrapbook, the shells dark against the wood.

Holly had been so angry that morning, filled with a deep disappointment that had rarely surfaced despite their hardships of the past ten years. The mark on her cheek already blossoming into a red plum. She never understood how best to deal with the boy, how to approach him sideways and give him space to come into the real world from his far-off land. Only once had Jip raised a fist against him. It was on the first day of school after the near drowning three summers ago, and Tim was sure that his son would not want to miss the chance to see his friends. He had tricked him into getting out of bed and even made it through breakfast, but as the time to go approached, the boy simply stopped moving.

“Put on your socks and shoes,” Tim had barked. “We’re late for school.”

His son balked and bent his legs to hide his bare feet beneath his bottom.

“You know you want to go. Dammit, Jip, hurry up and do as I say.” He could hear the rising anger in his voice but did nothing to stop it.

Lowering his head, the boy glowered at him, defiance steadfast in his gaze. He shifted farther away, anchoring himself in the chair, wrapping his thin arms around the rails.

“Last chance—”

“No,” Jip yelled.

Tim reached and grabbed at his arm, intending to wrench him free and make him put on his socks and shoes, but in the same instant, his son twisted and swung wildly, small fists beating like a drummer against his father’s hands. Realizing his mistake, Tim stepped out of range, and watched the boy flail at him and then collapse, overcome by his rage, a different creature altogether, a mad dog snarling and showing his teeth. The display alarmed Tim at first, but he thought to simply wait and betray no emotion. Just as he had guessed, his son came back into himself and settled.

Standing tall and looking down on the child, Tim said, “You must never hit.”

His little boy convulsed with one short spasm, just longer than a twitch. “No,” he said.

From that moment, Tim knew to take care in any sudden and unexpected touch, and that’s what must have done in Holly. She forgot. She scared him. It would never happen again, Tim would find the right opportunity to talk with Jip and put the fear of God in him. Send him away, indeed.

The Rothmans would never have to send away their little boy. He would come to this room every summer until he was a young man, and probably come back with his own son in time, and that boy would be normal, too, and on it would go for them, the lucky, the untroubled, the well-to-do. And Tim would be coming here forever, checking on someone else’s second home, closing up every winter and caretaking their dreams. He listened for the wind, but it had abated. No breeze whistled through the cracks. An oppressive silence gave him the uneasy sensation of being all alone in a strange place, and then the house heaved a sigh as though it had tired of him. When he realized it was just the furnace shutting off, Tim laughed at himself. Acutely aware of his own breathing and feeling like a trespasser, he turned to leave, only to be stopped by a small and uncertain sound. Something scratched, like fingernails raked across a sheet of paper, barely audible but enough to unsettle him. It clicked again, a staccato of movement emanating from inside the room. Spooked by its suddenness, he pricked up his ears. The third set of delicate clicks came from the direction of the boy’s desk, and he heard and finally saw the scuttling of a pair of hermit crabs resurrecting themselves in their shells, fiddling their great claws and wriggling their legs to meander across the wooden surface.

“What the—”

All four crabs were on the march, heading off to the four corners, and he pounced, collecting them one by one in the scoop of his hands. Each quickly withdrew into its whirling cone. How they had survived for months in the boy’s pockets was a mystery to Tim, but he quickly dismissed the question and carried them downstairs and put them in the sea grass behind the house. He watched for a long time to see if they would move, but they remained still as stones.

The sun had long since reached its winter day apogee and now arced toward the west as though rimed in mist. A frosty afternoon was sneaking in, and he was late. He left the crabs where they lay and hurried off. As he approached the Wellers’ house, he could see their son, Nick, waiting patiently on the front porch, cold as an icicle, and he raced to the Jeep as Tim pulled into the driveway, as if he had been a prisoner a long, long time and was now released from his sentence. His cheeks were red and chapped, and the boy beamed with an eagerness nearly impossible to bear. Nick was such a good friend to have for Jip. Such a good boy.

My Rating

4kisses

About the Author

KEITH DONOHUE is an American novelist. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he earned his B.A. and M.A. from Duquesne University and his Ph.D. in English from The Catholic University of America. Currently he is Director of Communications for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the grant-making arm of the U. S. National Archives in Washington, DC. Until 1998 he worked at the National Endowment for the Arts and wrote speeches for chairmen John Frohnmayer and Jane Alexander, and has written articles for the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other newspapers.

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