The Waking Dark
by Robin Waserman
Expected Publishing Date: September 10, 2013
Length: 464 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
Format Read In: library book
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They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn’t even know why she killed—or whether she’ll do it again.
Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander’s, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who’s not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves.
I am not normally a horror/scary reader, so I approached The Waking Dark cautiously. I was hoping this book would hit the sweet spot between being scary enough to creep me out a bit, but not being so scary I had nightmares. And that is exactly where The Waking Dark fell on the scariness scale.
The book opens with the bang of a gun and the slamming of a car into the tree, as well as several acts of horrifying and senseless violence that leaves several town citizens dead, and that’s only the beginning of this violent ride. I will say I never found anything in the Waking Dark particularly graphic or gorey, but there is a LOT of violence, often implied more than outright stated, which makes it all the more eerie. So just know if that’s something that bothers you, this might not be the book for you.
After the initial event of this book takes place, a twister blows through Oleander, Kanasas, and things in the town pretty much get turned upside-down as well. The town is effectively placed on complete lockdown after the twister, which happens very early in the story, so at its heart, the story of The Waking Dark is one of a small town collectively going violent, trapped together.
This isn’t a particular original premise. Indeed, it seems a popular one for horror books and movies–what can be scarier than thinking the place you’ve lived and have thought of as a quiet and safe place has monsters roaming in it that wear the mask of your neighbor? How utterly disturbing is it to think that perhaps your mailman who always smiles and waves has thoughts of opening gunfire one day? These kind of questions are what really makes the premise of The Waking Dark work for me. Yes, there may be outside sources that compel people to indulge in violent dreams, but is this what has always been lurking in them, waiting to bubble up to the surface? You don’t necessarily need paranormal creatures for a scary story. Just plain human nature and evil. Add in the idea of not being able to get out of such a hellhole and being completely and utterly trapped and then you have a fantastic plot.
However, I have to say as much as I enjoyed the premise and the way the story of The Waking Dark played out, I did have a few problems. None of them that major on their own, but together they did lower my opinion of the book a little bit. The first was that I felt the characters all missed out on excellent characterization a little bit just because of the nature of the story. There’s so many people in this book–the entire town, really– and even the main characters miss out on a lot of ‘screen time’, so to speak, that I think could have improved the overall story. Some of them were excellently done– I felt I really understood Jule, West, and Ellie by the end, and as such, was most intrigued by the story of how they reacted to the killing day and how they handled the madness that happens in the town afterwards. Unfortunately, two of the main characters–Daniel and Cass–never quite got to that point. Don’t get me wrong, I still found them interesting, but just not as well-rounded. It’s extremely unfortunate in Cass’ case because she really should have been the most complex character ever.
Another issue I had is that even by the end, there was a lot left unanswered that I felt really needed to be answered. We get to know the very surface of the why the citizens of Oleander started acting like they did, but it’s not really a sufficient answer. And I know that may be a bit of the point–would it have mattered anyway? Are these people really this violent, or was it something that happened to them? And I find those questions interesting, but as a reader, I’d just really like to have a bit more of a reason before even getting to the point where I can start accepting those questions myself. And the last issue was the writing. I’ve seen several people who really love Waserman’s writing, but it seemed exceptionally wordy to me, especially at the beginning of the chapters. There was just a lot of. . . excess information, given, and I guess that sometimes takes me out of the story a little bit.
Final Impression: The HUGE cast of characters hurt this one a little bit as at times it felt a bit unfocused, but aside from that, I really enjoyed The Waking Dark. I’m not a typical horror reader so I was a bit worried, but I thought it hit a perfect spot between being incredibly disturbing at times, but it wasn’t particularly gory, which always gets me. I really enjoyed the premise of this book and the way it was executed. Overall, it was a great October read. 4/5 cupcakes.