Review: Daphne by Josh Malerman

cover of DaphneDaphne by Josh Malerman
Del Rey (September 2022) 
272 pages; $24.99 hardcover; $13.99 ebook
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

The small town of Samhattan has a secret. A thing everyone knows but nobody questions.

That is until high school baller Kit and her friends play a game of “Ask the Rim.” The rules are simple: ask the rim a question, you shoot the basketball, a swish is a yes, a miss a no.

And the rim never lies.

What was Kit thinking when she asked the rim about the local legend of a “freak” named Daphne?

A seven-foot woman with enormous hands that could palm a basketball, no question. Most say it wasn’t Daphne’s size that ostracized her, but the way she eyed children, as a crow might watch a field mouse. Hungry and ready to swoop in.

Some say Daphne wore makeup resembling that of the rock band KISS. And she always wore denim.

“Will Daphne kill me?” Kit asked the rim.

And everything that followed that shot is bloody, battered, anxiety-inducing, and deadly.

Josh Malerman’s foundation for Daphne is solid and was enough for me to dedicate two evenings to finish this book.

The local legend and how it’s spread, saying her name, thinking about her, is a trope horror fans have seen again and again. However,  Malerman does it with a unique flare and coming-of-age themes, like Kit learning about her anxiety and the pressure she feels toward the notion that she can do anything.

I found Kit’s journal to be one of the standout elements of Daphne. Malerman, with such authenticity and relatability, crafts journal entries where Kit details not just having anxiety but how an anxious mind operates…or malfunctions. This detail made me ache for high school-aged me who needed a story like this — an explanation for my overactive mind.

I hope Daphne finds its way to readers experiencing anxiety like Kit does. The world needs more stories like this.

As for the plot, pacing, and arc, Malerman isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. In Nightmare On Elm Street-style, this novel gets right to the kills. Girls from the basketball team are brutalized in their bedrooms, in the town square, and so on. And no one knows who will be next.

As the body count racks up the townspeople and the ballers question who’s truly behind the slayings — a town serial killer buried alive generations ago? An outsider?

But Kit doesn’t believe any of those theories. To her there’s only one culprit: Daphne.

With a backdrop of buried truths (and live men), a gnawing question of belief, and the need to talk about a story the town swore to forget, Daphne gleams in horrific brilliance.

Though the ending felt slightly rushed for me, I’d still rank Malerman’s latest as one of the best novels of the year, and one of the greatest YA horror stories, I’ve ever read.

Daphne is not to be missed.

Leave a Reply