The Cemetery Boys
by Heather Brewer
Expected Publication Date: March 30, 2015
Length: 288 pages
Obtained Via: I was given an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
View at the Traffic light:
When Stephen is forced to move back to the nowhere town where his father grew up, he’s already sure he’s not going to like it. Spencer, Michigan, is like a town straight out of a Hitchcock movie, with old-fashioned people who see things only in black-and-white. But things start looking up when Stephen meets the mysterious twins Cara and Devon. They’re total punks–hardly the kind of people Stephen’s dad wants him hanging out with–but they’re a breath of fresh air in this backward town. The only problem is, Cara and Devon don’t always get along, and as Stephen forms a friendship with the charismatic Devon and something more with the troubled Cara, he starts to feel like he’s getting caught in the middle of a conflict he doesn’t fully understand. And as Devon’s group of friends, who hang out in a cemetery they call The Playground, get up to increasingly reckless activities to pass the summer days, Stephen worries he may be in over his head.
Stephen’s fears prove well-founded when he learns of Spencer’s dark past. It seems the poor factory town has a history of “bad times,” and many of the town’s oldest residents attribute the bad times to creatures right out of an urban legend. The legend goes that the only way the town will prosper again is if someone makes a sacrifice to these nightmarish creatures. And while Stephen isn’t one to believe in old stories, it seems Devon and his gang might put a lot of faith in them. Maybe even enough to kill for them.
Now, Stephen has to decide what he believes, where his allegiances lie, and who will really be his friend in the end.
There was a huge quality difference between the first half and the last half of The Cemetery Boys. The first half was slow and dull, and I found myself growing more and more frustrated with Stephen’s inability to realize something was going on. Then, just when I was going to put this book down for good, it suddenly picked up and started just plain excelling at bringing the creepiness. It was a big momentum shift and the end result left me feeling a little unsettled–in a good way.
Stephen finds himself in Spencer, Michigan, the small town his father grew up in. Stephen wants nothing to do with the run-down town and his bitter grandmother who takes him and his father back in, but he has no choice. He finds some escapes, however–Cara and Devon. Devon becomes Stephen enigmatic maybe-friend and Stephen finds himself spending his nights down at the cemetery–or “The playground” as locals call it–messing around and finding himself being drawn in to Spencer’s mysteries. During the day, Stephen seeks out Cara, Devon’s brother, and the two strike up something that seems to move towards a relationship.
The first half of the book sets up this dynamic, and it’s, well. . . there aren’t so much hints that something more sinister is going on in Spencer as much as huge anvils being dropped from the sky. Most of my frustration from the first half of the book was that the story seemed to be trying to hard to draw attention to the dark and secret places. Foreshadowing is all well and good, but so much of the first half of this book wasn’t foreshadowing as much as it was huge arrows being pointed to characters and places.
For that reason, it wasn’t surprising when things took a turn for the dark–finally–but it was welcome. Stephen finds that Spencer has a local legend of beasts called the “Winged Ones”–giant birds of prey that feast on the town and bring it hard times unless appeased with a human sacrifice. Stephen finds himself in the midst of this as he begins to doubt that the winged ones aren’t real and also if someone is planning such a sacrifice soon.
I think the one thing that makes The Cemetery Boys work, and the reason I didn’t DNF this book at the beginning, is the theme of the outsider-vs-the-town. I grew up in a small town, and while I don’t think anyone in my hometown would start sacrificing people to mythical beast, I can vouch that the outsider-vs-the-small-town trope that often comes up in books and entertainment is not always exaggerated. And The Cemetery Boys takes this idea and just runs with it. Stephen has suspicions, but he can’t go to anyone with them because Spencer is a town that protects it’s own. And once that turning point happens, the book picks up and doesn’t slow down. It’s a wild ride to the finish, and it’s completely unsettling.
While I found the beginning of this book incredibly slow, once it finally picked up I found myself enjoying the story and it’s originality. While I would have appreciated deeper characterization, I did find the book delightfully unsettling in the end. 3/5 cupcakes.