Small town horror. A coming of age novel. The good girl/bad girl conflict. Readers have read it all before, right? Not so. S.P. Miskowski turns the tropes on their heads in this wrenching novel that is bound to leave a scar.
The little town of Skillute might remind horror fans of other odd little towns, ones drawn by Shirley Jackson and Charles Grant specifically, although Stephen King’s Derry might also come to mind. The Davis family has moved there to get away from the big city. It’s definitely no Seattle, and might lead one to think they’ve left reality. The focus is thrust squarely on middle school daughter Tasha, who must find a way to fit in; and let’s face it, there’s not much bigger circles of hell than middle school. The friend she discovers is the badass Briar Kenny, who lives on the lesser side of town, specifically in a trailer park with her mom and sleazebag boyfriend. Through a series of brutal events, the two find themselves bound together much tighter than either would have expected.
To say more about the plot would ruin much of the suspense, but the twists and turns emerging between the pages are well worth the journey. There is a dark force that exists in Skillute that begs to be heard and felt, which is far more original than in most horror novels. Miskowski brings it to life in a manner that echoes the aforementioned authors, yet she carves out her own style. While quiet, it cuts like razor wire, wounding deep, before the readers—or characters—know they’ve been cut.
What makes this novel burn is the construction of the characters. Each of them relates to some piece of the reader, some of it in light, but much of it in shadow. Miskowski knows how to touch upon the darkest parts of humanity without bludgeoning. The aspects of bullying and abuse are handled skillfully here, affecting more than the “typical” horror elements.
The surprises here are Tasha’s mother, Kim, and Briar’s relationship with the family. Kim’s demons are real, unfolding and dug out with ragged nails until a scar is born (pun intended). Many of the characters have unlikeable traits that conflict with their core beings, which elicits a beautiful dissonance that drives the impact of The Worst is Yet To Come so much deeper than most recent novels.