Wednesday, April 3, 2013


YA novels are a funny thing these days. So much of them should not be read by kids. The Hunger Games still baffles me as something marketed toward youngsters--such a  gratuitous amount of violence and strong Political rhetoric. Both of which are fine, even appreciated, in an adult novel, but I kind of shudder to think what nightmares a 10-year-old has reading that kid of book. But I don't have kids, so I can't really speak from experience.

The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff on the other hand is a YA horror novel that reads a lot like an old R.L Stine book, which scored points for me, having grown up on those old Goosebumps titles. Yes, there is plenty of darkness here that straddles certain adult tones, and it's impactful, but it is tame. This was more like an after school special mixed  with a good Arthur Conan Doyle story.

The death of a teenage boy, Daniel Townsend, in the opening chapters begins our story. Daniel is the star athlete in high school, but his father is dying from cancer, and he is determined to help his father survive. Rather than go play ball with is friends, Daniel takes a drive out to an old abandoned mansion on the edge of town in hopes of finding answers about a cure for his father. Sadly, Daniel is killed by another driver near the dilapidated estate soon after. Though Daniel's car (and body) are found, the other car leaves no trace of itself or why they wanted Daniel dead. Thus begins our mystery.

Daniel's former girlfriend, Angela, and friend, Marc, begin to uncover clues leading to a possible supernatural explanation of Daniel's death. Why was he at that strange house? Who's the old guy that lives there? And what does that person have to do with Daniel? Meanwhile, a local detective is also trying to solve a second series of strange crimes: a sudden spurt of grave robberies. Bodies are being exhumed at the graveyard near the house where Daniel was killed. Their skulls are taken in the middle of the night by a strange figure in a carriage. Marc and Angela soon stumble upon this act of grave robbing while snooping on the man in the house, and it's clear there is a connection. But what?

I'll hold off on revealing the rest for fear of spoiling the mystery, but suffice to say we get a heaping dose of things that go bump in the night as the mystery begins to unravel.

Author Calvin Dean writes like the best of them, with a superb sense of syntax and a choice for words that proves he's worked at his craft. Add to that some extensive research on Cancer treatments and Police procedure that shows he put some thought into this work and he deserves some pats on the back for his skill.

One issue I had trouble with in this book, however, was the dialogue. It's pretty whitewashed. I know this is a YA novel but we're dealing with high schoolers who can drive and have cellphones which puts them into the 2000s. Too much of their voice seemed pulled from old Leave it to Beaver episodes. I just can't see seventeen-year-olds saying Sir and Ma'am so much these days, or baking muffins for their neighbors. Not that they should have spoken like the teens on that show Skins, but you know, a bit more realism would have been better. Likewise, their parents speak like people from the Stepford Wives. Thankfully the majority of the dialogue drives the novel forward, so even if it's somewhat bland, it's easy enough to gloss over those moments and remain entrenched in the story.

The loose ends were all wrapped up nicely (I was a little confused as to why a couple items had to be so convoluted, but ultimately it doesn't deter from the overall climax, so take that as you will) and the reveal totally surprised me--I did not see it coming! Also, kudos for the epilogue, which ended on a nice dark note that will leave an impression in readers.

All in all The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff is a fun read for youngsters, with some mild violence that is certainly tamer than anything in the Hunger Games. If you can get past some stilted dialogue, this is a very good book. I recommend it.

3.5 OUT OF 5 Worms

No comments:

Post a Comment