Wasserman (The Book of Blood and Shadow) delivers an exceptional horror novel that will lead to inevitable (and deserved) Stephen King comparisons. In the isolated Kansas town of Oleander, five people suddenly go on murder sprees, with four of them committing suicide. A year later, five survivors are united when a storm (and later, soldiers) isolate the town: loner Daniel, closeted jock West, newly evangelical Ellie, outcast Jule, and Cassie—the one remaining murderer, who has no recollection of what she did or why. As the days pass, the five grow increasingly aware that everyone else in Oleander is starting to act strange. The characters’ own conflicts—Jule’s family deals meth, West’s parents are homophobic, etc.—help fuel the tension until the insanity really takes over. While the plot isn’t new (see either version of The Crazies), Wasserman juggles a huge cast, intense action, and some truly horrific moments with style and skill. The novel works just as well as mainstream horror as YA, and the ending is both effective and brutal. Ages 14–up. Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Sept.)
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, July 29, 2013:
"Wasserman (The Book of Blood and Shadow) delivers an exceptional horror novel that will lead to inevitable (and deserved) Stephen King comparisons… The novel works just as well as mainstream horror as YA, and the ending is both effective and brutal.”
Starred Review, Booklist, August 1, 2013:
"The Waking Dark is a horror story worthy of Stephen King... It’s a violent, edgy, well-written, and foreboding novel, so realistic that readers can only hope it’s simply fiction."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, July 2013:
"Great dialogue and intriguing subplots add to the action-packed story, which will have readers frantically flipping pages. Wasserman sustains a truly spooky mood throughout, and the suspense doesn’t let up until the final pages."
Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2013:
"Masterful pacing and brilliant scene-setting work to make sure readers can’t leave Oleander until the final page."
From the Hardcover edition.
Those who survived The Killing Day, a day when twelve died at the hands of their friends and neighbors, have struggled to return Oleander, Kansas, back to something like normal. They had succeeded once before, after the Christmas Day Fire in 1899, and now with the old factory reopened to new use, the town would rise again. But the earth has a long memory, and the wide open skies drop a dark funnel, explosions rock the landscape, and Oleander's citizens face a new, yet ancient, darkness in the landand in their hearts. Five teensperennial outsider Jule, golden jock West, caretaker Daniel, symbol and sacrifice Ellie, and scapegoat sole-surviving killer Cass in a sleepy Midwest town quarantined behind barbed wire and armed guards, with little in common but their secrets and fears, must take charge of their own destinies as Oleander descends into violence borne of mass hysteria, religious zealotry, venality, and monumental evil. With more than a nod in tribute to Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, Wasserman builds a constant undercurrent of menace and foreboding that keeps the pages turning. It is not surprising that the jocks and bullies eagerly take on the role of town "Watchdogs," nor that there is a sinister force behind the destroyed factory and town quarantine, nor that Cassandra functions as a kind of doomed prophetess, and the figures and institutions that should protect are part of what falls apart. Readers will revel in the relentless pacing and ominous tone of this scary and disturbing ride. Reviewer: Mary Arnold
Gr 9 Up—This contemporary thriller opens on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon in a small town in Kansas, when five people with no connection to one another inexplicably commit murders and then kill, or attempt to kill, themselves. This becomes known as "the killing day," and no one has an explanation for it. The dark story is told from the perspectives of five teenagers, each of whom suffers in a different way due to the crimes, but it's nearly a year before their linked lives truly converge. After a devastating tornado, the entire town is quarantined and the adults are descending into violent madness. The five teens seem to be the only ones who realize something terrible is happening; they struggle both to stay alive and unravel what's really going on and who is responsible. While the number of protagonists can be confusing at times, their alternating stories are all compelling. Great dialogue and intriguing subplots add to the action-packed story, which will have readers frantically flipping pages. Wasserman sustains a truly spooky mood throughout, and the suspense doesn't let up until the final pages.—Sunnie Lovelace, Wallingford Public Library, CT
All the kids want out of Oleander, Kan.; few will make it alive. The small, isolated town has horrors in its past. The citizens begin a slow return to the surface on "the day of the killing," when five people with little in common go on a killing spree, and then four of them kill themselves. Teenager Cass, the only surviving murderer, is quickly institutionalized. Just as the town creeps back toward normalcy, an EF5 tornado whips through and destroys a quarter of the buildings and a nearby secret research facility. The U.S. government places the town under quarantine, with complete autonomy within it, and the citizens all begin to act out their worst impulses. As the adults slip into insanity and grab for power (when not killing each other), a small band of teens--gay footballer West, daughter of meth dealers Jule and struggling street-preacher's kid Daniel--fights to survive. When Cass returns to reveal the truth of their situation, they fight to escape. Wasserman's horror/science-fiction blend is ultraviolent in places, ludicrous in others and snooze-inducing in still others. It's a mess of an attempt at Stephen King–style small-town horror, undermined by an unrealistic and basically uninteresting portrayal of the classic breakdown of civilization amid a too-large cast. Skippable in the extreme. (Horror. 17 & up)