Review: Ghoul by Brian Keene

Ghoul by Brian Keene
Eraserhead Press (2012)

228 pages; $11.59 paperback; $7.95 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann

“Boys have scars”, he thought. “Some of them fade—and others don’t. Some scars stay with us for life.”—Brian Keene, Ghoul

Even though this book was originally published some years ago, stories this good are timeless and a well-written book can find its audience yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Ghoul will now join the ranks of my favorite coming-of-age horror tales. And I know what some of you are thinking right now, “We know all about Brian Keene and Ghoul, Sadie. You’re a little late to the party!”

But hear me, my friends: I’m a bookish introvert and I’m always late to the party, if I even show up at all—so good for you that you read this forever ago, but even better for me that I got to read it in this season of my horror-fiction-loving-lifestyle right now!

The premise is a good one: Three twelve year old boys are looking forward to spending the summer in their hidden fort, eating junk food, reading comics and talking about girls. Things are going according to plan until the boys are faced with having to battle monsters—both real life monsters in their own homes and an ancient terror that has taken up residence in their town’s cemetery: a ghoul.

The reason I love coming-of-age horror so much is because it’s such a definitive, epic time in each one of our lives. When you’re twelve years old, everything seems larger than life and even the smallest drama can feel like the end of the world. Young adults are the perfect protagonists for a horror story because even though they are growing into adulthood and learning how to make decisions for themselves, so much of their existence depends on the adults in their lives. If something paranormal, supernatural, extraterrestrial or demonic threatens their lives, they have to tell the adults and they are NEVER believed! It’s so frustrating! If I’ve learned anything really important from coming-of-age horror, it’s that children are always to be believed—even if they tell you that there is a glowing, naked ghoul hell-bent on impregnating women in its subterranean lair under the town cemetery!

But even worse than this horny, corpse-eating ghoul are the home lives of two of the protagonists, Doug and Barry. I won’t go into detail because that’s part of the intimate reader’s discovery that I don’t want to spoil for anyone desiring to pick this up for the first time. But honestly, you’ll go into this book expecting a creature-feature offering only blood and carnage, but you close the book with tears in your eyes and your heart torn in two and a hollow feeling in your guts, meaning you’ve experienced some real feelings.

Brian Keene took me on a journey with Ghoul, and it was visceral and painful and emotional and I’ll never forget it. Truly, an amazing introduction to his writing. I’m so thankful for all of Keene’s fans that pointed me to this book. They knew exactly which one of his works would cement Keene as a new favorite for me and they were so right.

I can’t wait to go on many more dark journeys from Keene’s mind. This is only the beginning, and if you, fellow horror fiction lover, haven’t gone on those journeys yet either and you want to join me, let’s do so together. It’s this reader’s opinion you start with Ghoul.

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