The Reading Buddy is a new release, so as usual when I discuss new books, I’ll be doing a general review instead of a spoiler-laden recap. I like to try to give new books a little breathing room so they can find their audience.
Like the books by Paul Philips that I’ve been reading, this feels very much like a vintage Point Horror or Fear Street novel, with one exception (and this applies to Philips’ books too): instead of vague “craziness,” used to dismiss homicide or whatever, there’s a specific mental health issue (in this case, social anxiety; in The Housewarming Party, depression), presented intelligently and with empathy.
As much as I can roll with the 80s/90s style of dealing with the issue (unrealistically, for the most part), I have to say, it adds some realism to have characters who’re able to describe mental health issues 1) in a way that makes sense and 2) that arise out of events, and make future events make sense. And horror just works better when the world is believable.
The Reading Buddy has a lot going on, most of which I can’t discuss without spoiling things. There’s a murder in the background, which far from being over and done with still informs the main character’s reactions (seventeen-year-old Blake Thomas, who lost both his best friend and his stepfather in one horrific night). There’s the menacing reading buddy from the title, an online relationship Blake acquires at the urging of his therapist as a sort of first step as he eases his way back into social relationships. There’s Blake’s father, and weirdness surrounding his relationship with Blake’s (long deceased, and before that, divorced) mother. And there’s the girl next door, whose relationship with Blake is more complex than he realizes…
I virtually inhaled this book. I started it before bed last night, and got up and finished it this morning. It’s very readable, obviously. Things that I initially worried might be loose threads got picked up as the story progressed, which was satisfying.
This is definitely one for fans of classic YA horror, and I’ll be reading the author’s earlier book, as well as whatever he writes next.