I experienced "High Lonesome Sound" as a very uneven novel which had some very strong moments in it but didn't really deliver on its promise.
I liked the originality of both the nature of the underlying evil that rises to the surface in the book and the forces used to confront it.
So many horror novels start well, building tension and creating context and characters that I care about and then fizzle out when the big bad finally sees the light of day. The confrontation scenes in "High Lonesome Sound" are the part of the book that I enjoyed most. They deliver in terms of horrific action and a satisfying pulling together of the various plot threads and character traits.
Unfortunately, the first sixty-plus per cent of the book leading up to the confrontation was light both on tension and on foreboding. I knew something bad was coming but I felt no dread of it.
At the start of the book, I felt that the mountain people were being presented as a set of Reality TV stereotypes of weird and wacky Appalachia. This effect wore off a little as the main characters were given something to do and their backstory was explained but it took a while and I never quite got past the view that the life the mountain lived was being looked down on. The Church is central to both the community and the story but I was left with no sense that the faith of these people was understood or valued.
There are some interesting themes around the gender roles and the price paid for men repressing their emotions or expressing them with their fists but it felt a little too "Deliverance" most of the time.
My main problem with the book was how much I despised the character of Peter, the author looking for a story. This would have been a fine emotion for me to have if Peter had been set up as one of the bad guys. Instead, he was a weak and ineffectual would-like-to-be-a-hero-but-I'm-not-sure-I'm-up-to-it kind of guy. The start of the book focuses on Peter whining about his life, his failed career, his failed marriage and how unfair it all is. By the time he got the town in the mountains, I was hoping he would suffer an early and painful death so we could all move on. Instead, I kept getting thrown out of the story by Peter's reflections on the writing process and his view on what would happen next if this were a novel he was writing.
I see that Peter was a necessary part of the plot. I just don't see why he had to be so meh.
This was an entertaining, if sometimes frustrating, way to spend a few hours but this isn't a book that's going to stay with me.
Brian Griffin is a strict high school English teacher. He doesn't accept late assignments for any reason. He considers an "A" grade to indicate perfection, meaning that even his best students don't get more than a B in his class. He once humiliated one of his students, Mark, making him beg to stay in his class after an incident with one of his assignments, only to tell him "no" and force him to take the class over.
Mr. Griffin's kidnapping starts with Jeff's frustrated and angry mumbling: "That Mr. Griffin's the sort of guy you'd like to kill." From there, Mark hatches a plan to scare Mr. Griffin by kidnapping him and making him think he might be killed. Jeff, Betsy (Jeff's cheerleader girlfriend), and David (senior class president and one of the most popular guys in school) also get involved, as does Susan. Susan is one of the Mr. Griffin's best students. She doesn't exactly like Mr. Griffin, but she doesn't have any reason to want to scare him. She does, however, have a huge crush on David, and it doesn't take much for him to convince her to help. Susan's job will be to make sure Mr. Griffin is in the right place at the right time to be kidnapped, while Jeff, Mark, and David do the actual kidnapping. Betsy is supposed to provide the guys their alibis. Unfortunately for everyone, the kidnapping does not go as planned.
I had hoped to check out Duncan's I Know What You Did Last Summer to read for my "Slasher Stories" square in Halloween Bingo, but my library didn't have that. Killing Mr. Griffin sounded interesting, though, so I decided to give it a go.
Killing Mr. Griffin is on the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged YA books. While trying to track down information about why it was challenged (for "violence and sexual content," according to the ALA), I came across a 2015 article describing a group in Collier County, Florida trying to get it removed from school libraries.
I didn't know any of that going in, but the title did a good job of signalling that Mr. Griffin was at least going to be in peril, and quite possibly end up dead. After Chapter 5 and its depiction of Mr. Griffin's home life, his true thoughts about his students, and his motivations, I was hopeful that the book would end up being a thriller in which readers would frequently worry that Mr. Griffin would end up dead but that he'd somehow make it until the end. Duncan dashed those hopes much more quickly than I expected.
I really liked the first few chapters of the book, which gave readers peeks at several of the main characters and the things that drove them. Susan was a shy girl who enjoyed writing, secretly had a huge crush on David, and felt overshadowed by her beautiful family members. Although David seemed perfect and untroubled at school, his home life was a different story. His dad left without a word a while back, and his mom probably saw too much of his father in him. His grandmother on his dad's side lived with them and had him at her beck and call whenever he was home, even though he strongly suspected she moved around just fine when he wasn't there. Mr. Griffin, meanwhile, had a happy life with his pregnant wife. He'd quit his higher paying job at the University of Albuquerque to teach high school students, hoping to give them the foundation they needed in order to thrive in college.
It was good stuff, even if the language was a bit dated. Unfortunately, I began to enjoy it less and less as the characters struggled to cover up what they'd done and, in Susan's case at least, deal with their crushing sense of guilt. This was not the kind of book where the cops were idiots, and these teens weren't criminal masterminds. In the end, I felt like I was just waiting to see which aspect of the crime would fall apart first. It wasn't so much suspenseful as it was frustrating.
The ending was both a bit over-the-top (the big confrontation) and depressing (the note). Although I didn't particularly enjoy the direction the story went after the kidnapping, and how things turned out, the last chapter would make for an excellent group discussion on guilt, peer pressure, and how the adults' interpretation of the events differed from how Susan likely viewed it all.
Apparently this book was "updated" at some point to include references to more modern technology, such as iPods and DVDs, without updating the dated feel of the dialogue and overall language. I read the original version of the book and, from the sounds of things, that's the best way to go if you can manage it.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Onise's words at the end of the previous volume cause Nao to wonder whether her feelings for Sou really are romantic. As she puzzles through the concept of romantic feelings and how to recognize them, Onise suddenly brings things to a head. He
kisses her while she's dozing and she wakes up and catches him at it. He's utterly horrified with himself and sure that this will be the end of their friendship, while she experiences an epiphany after the kiss: the one she has romantic feelings for is Onise. She wants to tell him, but how?
The volume ends with the introduction of a new character, Ayaha Futami, a classmate of Onise's who takes an interest in him.
I still think the entire "Nao has a crush on her uncle, who has been raising her since she was six" thing was weird and off-putting. And while I appreciated the way she started questioning how to recognize whether her feelings are romantic or not, I thought she figured things out awfully fast considering she'd spent years interpreting her love for her own uncle as romantic love.
I also didn't like the way Nao's epiphany happened.
What Onise did could be considered sexual assault. He kissed her while she was sleeping. From his perspective, Nao thought of him as a friend - no romantic feelings whatsoever. He knew he didn't have her consent for what he'd done, and it was part of why he was so utterly horrified when she woke up, caught him at it, and made him realize the line he'd crossed. I don't consider Onise to be a bad guy, but I wouldn't have blamed Nao if she'd been uncomfortable around him from that point on and kept him at arm's length.
If this had all happened in real life, that's probably what would have happened. However, this is a romance manga, so instead the kiss helped Nao figure out her true feelings. Again, I wish Meguro had figured out some other way to give Nao her epiphany.
Meguro included some moments showcasing Nao and Onise's budding friendships with Yashiro and Misaki, although they always referenced Nao and Onise's romance. The moments were cute, but I found myself thinking about the friendship storyline early on in Kimi ni Todoke that explicitly focused on Sawako, Chizuru, and Ayane, with no reference to Sawako's budding romance with Kazehaya. Yashiro supported Nao while she wondered what to do about Onise, and Misaki supported Onise as he decided to pursue Nao more actively. I thought the relationship between Onise and Misaki was slightly better done. It felt like they had a firmer foundation, in large part because Volume 1 had already done some of the work of breaking down Misaki's defenses on-page. Yashiro was a bit friendlier in this volume, but it came more out of the blue than Misaki's transformation.
Once Nao and Onise officially became a couple, I tended to like Meguro's efforts at "sweet" moments more. Onise turns out to be the sort of guy who moves both fast and slow, originally asking Na out "with marriage in mind," but worrying that by holding hands they're moving too fast. And Sou doing the "dad" thing, telling Onise that he'd better appreciate the cookies Nao put so much time into, was nice. I kind of hope Sou gets a romantic storyline at some point (with an adult! You have no idea how much I hate that I have to specify these things).
I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. I hope Futami is the good guy he appears to be and that Onise figures out a way to hang out with this new friend of his without making Nao feel like she's constantly being left out. But I worry that Meguro actually plans to make Futami a secret villain. I suppose I'll find out.
I'm still iffy about this series. Although the art style is cute and there are lots of cute moments, there are lots of aspects that I'm not wild about. I'm hoping the next volume is better.
Author sidebars and a few extra AU (alternate universe) comics in which Meguro depicts Sou as a teacher and all of the series' other characters as small children.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)