In this young adult, coming-of-age horror novella, AJ Franks imagines what life would look like for a teenage boy with an actual spider-face. The story unfolds rather quickly with the protagonist, Jeff Pritchet, struggling to lead a normal life but realizing that nothing will be easy for a boy with his unique condition. At school, Jeff befriends “the new kid” which introduces a combination of subtle queer themes and very heavy-handed racism.
Jeff’s parents and the parents of his new friend are disapproving of their boys hanging out together. Things escalate quickly as the story winds down to its violent climax. Franks leaves the door open for the potential to position this novella as an origin story in order to develop a certain storyline further.
Due to the style of the writing and the use of familiar body horror tropes, The Boy with the Spider Face would have maybe been better served as a graphic novel. The descriptions of Jeff’s mutations, like an emerging thorax, were tough to visualize, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. It was confusing to understand how Jeff’s human form and arachnid parts functioned as a whole. Equally confusing were Jeff’s parents. The character development just didn’t have enough time in the oven for readers to buy into some of the over-the-top hostility and violence, again suggesting this story would make a kick-ass comic. As a novella, it just falls really short of reader expectations.