Friday, September 26, 2014

The Lonely, by Ainslie Hogarth

Easter Deetz is dying, but she's not wasting away from cancer or any other tragic condition popular teen literature has romanticized as of late. No, Easter's demise is coming about from something much more gruesome: She's slowly bleeding to death, alone in the woods, after a boulder has fallen on top of her, crushing her legs.

Or is she?

Easter is a chronic liar. She admits as much early on in Ainslie Hogarth's debut novel, The Lonely. Of course, this confession could also be a lie, leaving readers locked in the paradox of whether you can trust her or not... But for the sake of argument, let's say she's dying under a rock, legs crushed and blood and guts soaking into the forest floor for insects and worms and other things to feast upon (Easter is very graphic). For this horrible, bloody death, Easter blames her sister, Julia, who apparently dropped the boulder on her.

Julia is the only thing that stands between Easter and what she calls The Lonely, a debilitating mental condition that cripples all the women in her family (her mother, her witch of a grandmother). Julia also makes Easter do horrible things like shut the neighbor's cat in a garbage can to die in the summer vandalize her grandmother's neighbors' lawns with set fire to the cabin her parents are renting one summer. 

Another important thing about Julia: She only exists in Easter's imagination.

And what an imagination! Stephen King would sell his soul (maybe) for the sort of horrid thoughts and images that regularly pop into Easter's head.

But then one day Easter walks into the upstairs bathroom and sees Something Terrible. Something even more Terrible than she could ever dream up. Of course she's wished for it more than a few times, but to see it in cold, hard reality... It's too much.

This is what sends Easter fleeing into The Woods where she encounters Julia and the fateful boulder. 

As Easter lies under that boulder, watching her body slowly bleed out and decay, she reviews her life with hamburger-eating, cigarette-smoking squirrels to bear witness.  And when the sun finally sets and darkness takes over the woods, she must finally face the Something she knows has been coming for her all day.

The Lonely is a very different sort of story. Easter is the ultimate unreliable narrator, and she will keep you guessing until the very end. And even after you've finished the book and set it aside, you'll still be wondering what exactly happened. A great choice for those who like a little horror and mystery and confusion (in a good way) mixed with their weird and bizarre reading choices. Awesome! --AJB 

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