I have a long standing passion for horror fiction, the macabre & the spine chilling, as I’ve mentioned before on my blog, probably dating back as far as a fantastic little hardback called Scare Yourself to Sleep. When I heard James Dawson was bringing the Bloody Mary story to YA Fiction, through one of the best publishers in the UK right now (Hot Key Books), I was very excited – I think I requested a proof before proofs where even available. Then when I heard that James had taken a great deal of inspiration from my favourite subgenre of Horror, Japanese originating “J-Horror”, I knew I absolutely had to read this book. Finally, a proof landed in my hands just recently, & I kept the lights on late into the night as I kept my eyes glued to the pages…
Roberta “Bobbie” Rowe attends the snobbish world of a private girl’s boarding school, Piper’s Hall. She’s hardly the most popular girl on campus, but she’s managed to expertly develop an air of invisibility that lets her drift by from day to day unnoticed, besides her closest friend & roommate Naya. As Halloween night rolls around, she somehow finds herself spending her evening with Grace, one of the most popular & influential girls in the school, as well as some of her cronies & two boys from the nearby village, smuggled in to Piper’s Hall. As the group tell Ghost Stories, one girl, Sadie, brings up the old Urban Legend of Bloody Mary… The girl who hanged herself after chronic bullying. If you say her name, after midnight, 5 times into a mirror, then she will come for you, from the spirit realm. Of course, the story then dissolves into who has the guts to go through with the dare, saying the name into the mirror. Sadie claims to have already tried it & nothing happened, so the group think it must be harmless fun, especially on Halloween. They make their way to one of the school’s bathrooms, but only 3 of them actually summon up the nerve to go through with it: Bobbie, Naya & one of the town boys, the irresistibly cute Caine. Of course, nothing happens – Thousands of teenagers play the same dare around the world, & none of them have vanished. But Piper’s Hall isn’t like anywhere else, & soon strange things start to happen, beginning with the disappearance of Sadie. Bobbie starts to see strange things reflected in mirrors that aren’t there, the image of a pale, bloodied girl, stalking her… Then the message “5 Days” appears in the fog on the bathroom mirror, & Bobbie, Naya & Caine realise they’re living on a deadline. Unless they can find out how to stop her, Mary will come for them all in 5 days time.
James Dawson is clearly well versed in the art of tension building, & has studied various horror stories along the way. He hits the right beats for upping the sense of building dread in the story, borrowing ideas & set pieces from Koji Suzuki’s The Ring & Dark Water (one of my all time favourite authors, by the way). However, his expertise as a YA/Teen author allows him to balance out the darkness of this Supernatural Thriller with some serious punchy wit & lightness, creating a very down to Earth story. The characters are well developed, & the interplay between Bobbie & Naya is fun, comfortable & realistic. Bobbie makes for a passionate, driven main character, & through her, we get to unravel a rich mystery with her sense of curiosity, as well as compassion. Her better nature drives her to believe that there is more to Mary’s story than it first seems, & through the dreams she has, we get to have a tragic back story of the murderous spirit. The story has a love element built through it, but it’s sweet & not at all over the top, so it worked for me.
The writing style of James’ is punchy & has a real energy to it, full of wit & humour, as well as a rich, fun use of metaphor & similes to paint a vibrant picture of Piper’s Hall & the surroundings. He uses the classic horror hotspots in familiar places, but that only helps to really give Say Her Name a feeling of a genre classic, & some of the sections ramp up the tension so well that I found myself physically gripping the book at points, so invested in the unfolding drama that I wanted to climb into the book. As with any good thriller, the pace really picks up in the book’s final third & I found myself flying through the revelations at breakneck speed, leaving me desperate to unwrap another layer of the tantalisingly tragic & dark mystery that lurks beneath the surface of this horror novel.
A perfect chiller, reminiscent of the Point Horror books of old, James Dawson has fused his teaching experience with his love of the darker side of fiction to create a gripping, exciting read that will captivate teens, & introduce them to a whole new genre of writing.
Thanks for reading.
Sleep Tight. Mind Mary doesn’t BITE.
You can find James Dawson on Twitter HERE.
Say Her Name is out from Hot Key Books in June 2014.