The Boy Who Drew Monsters

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Stolen Child comes a hypnotic literary horror novel about a young boy trapped inside his own world, whose drawings blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a...

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The Boy Who Drew Monsters: A Novel

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Stolen Child comes a hypnotic literary horror novel about a young boy trapped inside his own world, whose drawings blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy’s only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.

In the tradition of The Turn of the Screw, Keith Donohue’s The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a mesmerizing tale of psychological terror and imagination run wild, a perfectly creepy read for a dark night.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Terrence Rafferty
…ingenious…Donohue unspools his simple story patiently, delivering jolts when necessary, but mostly concentrating on the stress generated in a family with an unhappy child. It's a modest novel, elegantly worked, with a nice chilly twist at the end.
Publishers Weekly
The ghostly influence of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw haunts this chilling novel by Donohue (The Stolen Child), which follows a troubled boy whose interest in drawing coincides with the appearance of strange creatures around his family’s “dream house” in coastal Maine. When Jack Peter “Jip” Keenan, an agoraphobic, occasionally violent 10-year-old with “high-functioning” Asperger’s, takes up drawing, his parents, Holly and Tim, hope this new creative outlet will help to combat Jip’s introversion. But, over the course of a bleak December, a series of inexplicable phenomena—a beast-like man in the road, the bone of a human arm in the sand, visions of evil babies “scuttling... like silverfish across a page,” etc.—begin to throw the family, as well as Jip’s only friend, Nick, off-balance. With Jip receding further into himself, and his drawings—visually linked to the phenomena—growing darker, Holly seeks the counsel of a mysterious church worker, Miss Tiramaku, who, having Asperger’s herself, believes she knows Jip’s “secret.” Donohue is an adept creator of atmosphere—the nor’easter that frames the novel’s climax is expertly rendered—but repetitive flashbacks and the characters’ underdeveloped emotions detract from what is otherwise a brisk and winningly creepy narrative. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Clearly, we are in the territory of the wholehearted, up-for-anything gothic, which even as it undertakes a melancholic exploration of the lost, forlorn and bereft operates with the volume cranked and the plot on greased wheels. As a writer, Donohue always seems to know exactly what he is doing….and in The Boy Who Drew Monsters he twists the screw on Jack with the finesse of an expert. It is a pleasure to watch him glide along, pulling one squirming rabbit after another from his copious hat."—Peter Straub, The Washington Post

"Ingenious… Donohue unspools his simple story patiently, delivering jolts when necessary, but mostly concentrating on the stress generated in a family with an unhappy child. It's a modest novel, elegantly worked, with a nice chilly twist at the end."—Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] chilling Christmastime horror yarn… Like a child’s attention, the book may seem to wander in its final third before ultimately revealing itself to have been horribly on point all along."—Entertainment Weekly

"A classically hypnotic horror story… The Boy Who Drew Monsters dissolves notions of reality and fiction and leaves behind an eerie narrative about what haunting aberrations might lurk just outside our peripheral vision."—Tiffany Gibert, Time Out (New York)

"The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a masterfully controlled example of the literary horror genre. The setting is vividly Gothic and evocative, and Donohue builds tension and fear in that strange, snowbound world at an exquisitely slow pace."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"This novel ranks with the best of modern-day supernatural thrillers."—Bookreporter

"The novel is a pressure cooker, an airtight room with limited oxygen, and an astute study of the mysterious demons that loss breeds…. The book's final twist—and by final I mean, like, in the very last sentence—is satisfying in a Sixth Sense kind of way, but the manner in which Donohue keeps us in the dark until then is the novel's real reward."—Popular Mechanics

"This story is genuinely, deeply frightening....The Boy Who Drew Monsters is dazzlingly electrifying, full of portending dread, and genuine creepy scares. Never have I have been so unnerved by a novel, at least in some time, and as a literary horror novel, this succeeds on just about every level."—PopMatters

"Look out, Ichabod Crane. Donohue delivers a new gothic literary horror tome just in time for Halloween…. Let’s just say these spirits make the headless horseman look like a friendly guy."—New York Post (Required Reading)

"Donohue has created the slow, clicking, stomach-tightening anticipation of a roller coaster on the rise. He draws readers in with creative prose that outlines images that are both innocent and creepy."—Portland Press Herald

"With a mind-bending final twist, The Boy Who Drew Monsters—much in the tradition of the classic The Turn of the Screw—will leave readers shaking in their boots."—Bookpage

"Donohue's (The Stolen Child, 2006, etc.) writing is as evocative as Jack Peter's drawings, both startling and heavy with emotion...A sterling example of the new breed of horror: unnerving and internal with just the right number of bumps in the night."—Kirkus Reviews

"The ghostly influence of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw haunts this chilling novel by Donohue (The Stolen Child)… Donohue is an adept creator of atmosphere… A brisk and winningly creepy narrative."—Publishers Weekly

"The novel unfolds through rich prose and a deeply imagined story. The final page—the final sentence, really—comes as a clever surprise, but one that resonates soundly. Fans of Donohue’s first novel, The Stolen Child, will be pleased. Also recommended for readers of Joe Hill."—Library Journal

"It will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Keith Donohue manages to peer into the darkest nightmares of childhood and beckon forth the monsters from the closet...Atmospheric and haunting. The Boy Who Drew Monsters is all the more chilling because it is grounded in real family life, with its heartbreaks and tenderness."—Eowyn Ivey, New York Times bestselling author of The Snow Child

"Both an eerie, engrossing tale of the supernatural, with a sting in its tale, and a superb evocation of troubled youth. The Boy Who Drew Monsters reminds us that there is no rage like the rage of children..."—John Connolly, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Things and The Wolf in Winter

"An eerie, unsettling novel about the monsters outside your door...and the ones inside all of us. Donohue fills his pages with intimacy and dread, and whips up an ending that'll take your breath away." —Christopher Golden, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Snowblind

"There are no monsters. That's what Jack Peter's parents tell him, and what I kept telling myself as I got sucked deeper and deeper into this delectably chilling novel. But still, as I read, I found myself looking out the window at shadows moving in the darkness, until finally I had to get up and flip on every light switch in the house. The Boy Who Drew Monsters left me breathless and reeling, questioning the line between what is real and what is imagined — and realizing that the meeting of the two is where true terror dwells."—Jennifer McMahon, New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People

"Keith Donohue has crafted a brooding, Serlingesque tale of tragedy, heartbreak, and the things that go bump in the night. Creepy, nostalgic, and understated, The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a tale meant for the dark of night, but most will want to enjoy it with all of the lights on."—C. Robert Cargill, author of Dreams and Shadows

Additional Praise for Keith Donohue:

“Keith Donohue evokes the otherworldly with humor and the ordinary with wonder.”—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife

“Utterly absorbing...A luminous and thrilling novel about our humanity.”—The Washington Post on The Stolen Child

“A wonderful, fantasy-laden debut...So spare and unsentimental that it’s impossible not to be moved.”—Newsweek on The Stolen Child

Kirkus Reviews
What happens when the monsters under the bed come from the boy sleeping on top of it? Jack Peter is not a normal boy, and it's beginning to take its toll on his family. He's always been an odd child, but at 7, he nearly drowned and withdrew from the world. For the three years since, he has refused to leave the house, preferring to move from obsession to obsession, occasionally being bundled into a wad of blankets to be taken to the doctor. When the book begins, his obsession has moved from playing war to drawing monsters, and Nick, a relatively normal boy who is Jack's only remaining friend, is swept up in the furor. But Jack's parents and Nick are beginning to hear and see things that seem otherworldly, and it becomes clear that Jack's drawings reflect, or perhaps even create, the odd sounds and creatures. His parents, Tim and Holly, baffled by the happenings and frightened by the cracks in their marriage, try desperately to solve the growing mysteries. All suspect they are going insane; Tim takes to roaming the foggy beaches, Holly turns to the church, and Nick keeps tagging along with Jack. Donohue's (The Stolen Child, 2006, etc.) writing is as evocative as Jack Peter's drawings, both startling and heavy with emotion. The pacing is steady and recalls other recent works of literary horror, in which the terror of the monsters is uneasily balanced with the mundanity of everyday life. This doesn't discredit Jack's creatures at all, though; in fact, they're terrifying. With such a spooky novel, it's almost too much to hope for a good ending, but Donohue manages to surprise and satisfy nonetheless. A sterling example of the new breed of horror: unnerving and internal with just the right number of bumps in the night.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250057150
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 10/7/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 54,584
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue is the national bestselling author of the novels The Stolen Child, The Angels of Destruction, and Centuries of June. His work has been translated into two dozen languages, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other publications. A graduate of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Donohue also holds a Ph.D. in English from The Catholic University of America. He lives in Maryland.

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Read an Excerpt



A pale yellow sun hung low in the salt sky. Winter had blown in overnight, and the cold gave an air of lonesomeness to the empty roads and deserted vacation homes. Tim loved the dying light of December and the absence of the people and set about his business with a kind of gleeful freedom. He had a dozen properties to take care of in the village and another dozen scattered on the eastern edge of the peninsula, and he had worked his way through three of the four homes on his list for the day with not a soul to bother him.

The Rothmans’ summer place was the biggest and finest house in the village, fronting the crescent beach, ideally situated with a view of the lighthouse to the north and the unspoiled sand and rocks to the south. Tim parked the Jeep around back and stood in the driveway, admiring how seamlessly the new mansion blended in with the grand old New England Victorians that dotted the coast. But it had been built less than ten years ago. His son was older than the house. The wind cut through his jacket, so he hooked the lapels against his throat and jogged to the door and fumbled for the keys.

The house was colder inside than out, and he searched for the thermostat to turn up the heat and flipped on the lights in the pale noontime. In the kitchen, new and clean birch cabinets glowed like honey above smooth slate countertops and the spotless stove and refrigerator. A few tasteful prints lined the walls, and in the dining room, the chairs sat precisely three inches from the edge of the table, awaiting company. Alert for drafts, he wandered room to room, absentmindedly checking windows that he knew were closed. A layer of dust furred the shells and curios laid out carefully on the sideboard, and he drew a line with his fingertip along the edge of a mahogany credenza. Bound in frames, pictures of the Rothmans were everywhere: the father in his white dentist’s jacket, brandishing a tool of grave menace; the mother with the same practical smile in every photograph. Two children—a boy and a girl—progressively aging from toddlers to teenagers, perfect teeth glistening in the Maine summer sun. Even the dog was perfect, a Shiba Inu regal as a coiffed fox. In a gilded mirror, Tim saw himself prowling through their possessions like a thief, and he quickly turned away.

Tim sat in Dr. Rothman’s easy chair and inspected the Persian rug between his feet, wondering if he had dragged any sand or mud inside. The room was simple and elegant. A Steinway upright took up one wall. More photographs of Mrs. Rothman in her best swimsuit. Arts and Crafts mirrors and lamps. White pine beams and finishing trim. The furniture, spare pieces, summer home, finer and newer than his own. A castle built crown by crown, bridge by bridge, tooth by tooth.

Money. He dug into his front pocket and fished out a ten, the same crumpled bill he had tucked away three days ago. He knew without looking that his wallet was empty. Never enough money. The plan had been for him to go back to school, finish his degree, but when their son was born and later diagnosed, they decided after many long nights of argument that Tim would put ambition aside to care for the boy most of the time.

“I make more money,” she had said, and it was true, even as a small town lawyer just starting out. “So it only makes sense, when he’s still little, for me to keep my job. What’s so terrible about being a stay-at-home dad? You can always find something seasonal or part-time, we’ll work it out.”

He had stumbled into the caretaker’s position with Coast Property Management, but he often wondered if Holly had not secretly welcomed the chance to escape the responsibility of daily care for the boy, right from the beginning. When J.P. was younger, Tim took him along for odd jobs when Holly was not free or when they could not find a sitter. But after Jip developed his phobia, those excursions with his son became nearly impossible. Just as unlikely as returning to college after all these years. He was old enough to be a freshman’s father.

With the sole of his boot, he scraped at a spot on the rug. The wind rattled the windowpanes behind him, and he hoisted himself from the easy chair, stiff with cold, and climbed the stairs to check for drafts in the bedrooms. In the dentist’s boudoir, the king-size bed floated like a raft on a wide expanse. A single wrinkle creased the bedspread, and he smoothed it with two hands, picturing Dr. Rothman and his wife, perfect and tan, resting on a summer afternoon, worn out with relaxation. The wind whistled through a chink in the walls, and Tim followed the sound, past the daughter’s room. He caught a glimpse of a giant stuffed bear, won at some seaside carnival, sitting on Goldilocks’s chair.

The door at the end of the hall was closed, and when he opened it, a sharp odor leapt from the boy’s bedroom, as if it had been trapped for three months. Something dead in there. On the walls were posters of all the Boston sports stars, Red Sox and Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. A pair of water skis stood in the corner, and on the shelves and dresser careful lines of shells and starfish, a dried mermaid’s purse, a stick of driftwood bent like a narwhal’s horn. A scrapbook lay open on the schoolboy’s desk. Pages of an ordinary summer. The whaleboat out of Boothbay, a clambake on the beach, a set of printouts from the big annual fireworks in Portland. And the boy and his sister in the bright sunshine, climbing on rocks, kayaking on the calm Atlantic, holding a pair of trophy fishes no bigger than perch. The boy and his sister, darkening to bronze from July to September. He turned the last page and thought of his son.

Monster under the bed. Turning back the bedspread, Tim fell to his knees and peeked beneath the mattress. Squatting like a dried toad were a pair of swimming trunks in the shadows. He strained to reach them and recoiled when he touched the calcified folds and creases. As he dragged the stiff cloth across the floor, a trail of sand spilled out. In the pockets were four hermit crab shells reeking of the sea. He poked at the little bodies one by one but they did not flinch. Some monsters. The Rothmans must not have noticed when they packed up for the season, and that the cleaning crew must have neglected to look under the bed was no surprise to Tim, for they were quick and careless, often leaving behind surprises for him to remedy. He set the swimming trunks and the dead crabs next to the scrapbook, the shells dark against the wood.

Holly had been so angry that morning, filled with a deep disappointment that had rarely surfaced despite their hardships of the past ten years. The mark on her cheek already blossoming into a red plum. She never understood how best to deal with the boy, how to approach him sideways and give him space to come into the real world from his far-off land. Only once had Jip raised a fist against him. It was on the first day of school after the near drowning three summers ago, and Tim was sure that his son would not want to miss the chance to see his friends. He had tricked him into getting out of bed and even made it through breakfast, but as the time to go approached, the boy simply stopped moving.

“Put on your socks and shoes,” Tim had barked. “We’re late for school.”

His son balked and bent his legs to hide his bare feet beneath his bottom.

“You know you want to go. Dammit, Jip, hurry up and do as I say.” He could hear the rising anger in his voice but did nothing to stop it.

Lowering his head, the boy glowered at him, defiance steadfast in his gaze. He shifted farther away, anchoring himself in the chair, wrapping his thin arms around the rails.

“Last chance—”

“No,” Jip yelled.

Tim reached and grabbed at his arm, intending to wrench him free and make him put on his socks and shoes, but in the same instant, his son twisted and swung wildly, small fists beating like a drummer against his father’s hands. Realizing his mistake, Tim stepped out of range, and watched the boy flail at him and then collapse, overcome by his rage, a different creature altogether, a mad dog snarling and showing his teeth. The display alarmed Tim at first, but he thought to simply wait and betray no emotion. Just as he had guessed, his son came back into himself and settled.

Standing tall and looking down on the child, Tim said, “You must never hit.”

His little boy convulsed with one short spasm, just longer than a twitch. “No,” he said.

From that moment, Tim knew to take care in any sudden and unexpected touch, and that’s what must have done in Holly. She forgot. She scared him. It would never happen again, Tim would find the right opportunity to talk with Jip and put the fear of God in him. Send him away, indeed.

The Rothmans would never have to send away their little boy. He would come to this room every summer until he was a young man, and probably come back with his own son in time, and that boy would be normal, too, and on it would go for them, the lucky, the untroubled, the well-to-do. And Tim would be coming here forever, checking on someone else’s second home, closing up every winter and caretaking their dreams. He listened for the wind, but it had abated. No breeze whistled through the cracks. An oppressive silence gave him the uneasy sensation of being all alone in a strange place, and then the house heaved a sigh as though it had tired of him. When he realized it was just the furnace shutting off, Tim laughed at himself. Acutely aware of his own breathing and feeling like a trespasser, he turned to leave, only to be stopped by a small and uncertain sound. Something scratched, like fingernails raked across a sheet of paper, barely audible but enough to unsettle him. It clicked again, a staccato of movement emanating from inside the room. Spooked by its suddenness, he pricked up his ears. The third set of delicate clicks came from the direction of the boy’s desk, and he heard and finally saw the scuttling of a pair of hermit crabs resurrecting themselves in their shells, fiddling their great claws and wriggling their legs to meander across the wooden surface.

“What the—”

All four crabs were on the march, heading off to the four corners, and he pounced, collecting them one by one in the scoop of his hands. Each quickly withdrew into its whirling cone. How they had survived for months in the boy’s pockets was a mystery to Tim, but he quickly dismissed the question and carried them downstairs and put them in the sea grass behind the house. He watched for a long time to see if they would move, but they remained still as stones.

The sun had long since reached its winter day apogee and now arced toward the west as though rimed in mist. A frosty afternoon was sneaking in, and he was late. He left the crabs where they lay and hurried off. As he approached the Wellers’ house, he could see their son, Nick, waiting patiently on the front porch, cold as an icicle, and he raced to the Jeep as Tim pulled into the driveway, as if he had been a prisoner a long, long time and was now released from his sentence. His cheeks were red and chapped, and the boy beamed with an eagerness nearly impossible to bear. Nick was such a good friend to have for Jip. Such a good boy.

Copyright © 2014 by Keith Donohue

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 25, 2015

    A creepy, nice change of pace novel written with style and fast

    A creepy, nice change of pace novel written with style and fast pacing.  

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  • Posted December 1, 2014

    Different Plot

    May appeal to fantasy/light horror fans. I liked the book as it had twists and turns. If you have an interest in autism this also may be the book for you! I have already picked up one of his previous books because I liked this one.
    I don't want to be a spoiler, but I liked the art aspect.

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  • Posted October 9, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    There was so much to like about this book. I loved the creepines

    There was so much to like about this book. I loved the creepiness of the book, the setting of the book and all the characters; they really made the book so enjoyable for me. The main character is Jack who is ten, has Aspergers, never goes outside and basically has one friend, Nick. That’s pretty much Jack. A beach incident with Nick has left Jack scared of going outside so Nick and Jack play together inside as they consume an activity before moving on to another one. Right now that activity is drawing and Jack has taken up drawing monsters and Jack’s monsters are pretty intense. Jack’s really getting into his monsters with details while Nick has the laid back approach to his sketches. When strange things start to occur and mysterious sighting arise and disappear before anyone can investigate, I started to wonder what exactly was causing the problem. How could so many things happen so frequently and why? Snow was beginning to fall at the beach house, whoever they were seeing was running around naked, or at least it seemed that way. Naked in the snow? Only Jack seems to know who they were and what they wanted and at first no one wants to listen to his explanation. Jack’s mother feels she needs to gain control of the situation so she enlists the help of a priest. This lady must have been watching some scary movies in her day, as she doesn’t waste any time seeking out help and she knows exactly where to go for issues like this. The pieces start to fall into place but not before things start to get intense.

    The snow is falling at the beach house and we have individuals trying to track footprints in the snow, a shipwreck off the coast and all the other mysteries that surround this location had me loving the mystery of this setting. The sights and sounds that go with this picture, I thought it was perfect. Then we have Jack. The boy with many issues who lived within himself. He was passionate about his monsters and he was intense with his drawings, they really meant something to him. He needed to have a relationship with Nick because that was his only outlet for him. The more Nick spent time with him, the more Nick realized things about Jack and he realized he didn’t know him as well as he thought. This was a fast read and one that I could not put down. I loved everything about it except maybe the ending. Some books you want a happy ending and some you are okay with an open ending, but this one, why end it like this?
    Thank you NetGalley for providing a copy of this book for me to review.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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