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The Awakening Kindle Edition
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The description of the book didn’t offer too many clues to me as I looked it over. It is set in a small town over the course of a summer vacation. The main character is of a young age, just finishing up his last year of junior high and preparing for the transition to high school. Over the course of the summer he ends up in an unlikely friendship with one of the local eccentrics. The story was described, not just as a coming of age type of book, but also was drawing comparisons to Robert McCammon’s book, Boys Life. Now this was probably one of my favorite books growing up so on one hand, it definitely made me interested in reading this.
It also unfortunately served the purpose of setting the bar pretty high.
I was pleased to find that McBean more than cleared my expectations going into the book.
I don’t know if The Awakening necessarily captured all of the magic and grandeur of Boy’s Life, but in a few other areas, I thought the comparison was quite justified. First, I thought he managed to really capture the experience of youth, specifically in those first tentative steps you start to make, away from pure childhood and towards being an adult. I liked how McBean represented the perspective of children, instead of just making them small adults. I also thought McBean captured a lot of colorful and interesting characters in this book. There is a lot of variety in there and a lot of unique voices to the different people involved.
I don’t want to reveal anything from the book but I will say that while there are certain aspects of the book that some might dismiss as being overdone, he managed to do so in a way that felt totally unique and original. I thought he gave the story a nice feel with the touches of Haitian culture he adds to the book and I have to tip my hat to him in terms of the research and work that must have gone into writing this.
Moving through the book, I get invested in these characters and the struggles they experience. The narrative is sort of presented in two sections, with a large portion of it retold by one of the characters as back story. I’m normally not a huge fan of the “let me tell you about my life” plot device but he does it well, with an engaging story that grabbed my interest. And the storylines of the contemporary aspects of the book are also emotionally engaging and powerful.
One thing in particular I wanted to discuss is the issue of racism that comes up over the course of the book. It ultimately ends up being central to how the story progresses and it really kept me thinking as I read. It definitely challenges you, early on and to be honest, it was something I struggled with. Speaking frankly, if I had one criticism of the book, I thought McBean started in a little early with a large amount of racially hostile language from the characters. As the book moves along and you realize how much more widespread and entrenched the racism of the town is, you’re already a little desensitized by the extensive use of such racially charged language earlier in the book. I think that the second half of the book could have been more powerful if the beginning had been a little more subtle and grown into a more meaningful reveal of the darkness of the town.
I want to make it clear though that despite this criticism, I am not letting this affect my overall rating of the book. While I was troubled by the racism of the characters, I wasn’t offended by it and I didn’t think it was inappropriate. In the end, I thought that this book did what all good art should do.
It made me think.
This is a powerful and evocative book that I thought rose above the levels of genre and became its own creation. You’d be well rewarded for putting this one onto your “to-read” pile.
THE AWAKENING, by Brett McBean, is an intensely evocative novel that falls into several sub-categories of the horror genre: psychological, supernatural/paranormal, "real" human horror, and revenge. However, the theme that stands out the most in my mind is the coming-of-age of one of our main characters, Toby Fairchild. This story belongs in the ranks of Robert McCammon's BOY'S LIFE, and James Newman's MIDNIGHT RAIN, in my humble opinion. McBean takes us on a journey with these characters that changes them from innocent, trusting kids into pre-adults that are forced to confront the myriad forms of evil around them.
We have the quaint town of Belford, Ohio--complete with its own local "boogieman", Jack Joseph, that the children all fear and the older ones torment. Yet then we get to see the truth behind Mr. Joseph's unnatural existence. Though in form he may be considered a "monster", his heart is still gentle and his thoughts more pure than most people in that town.
". . . the old man still thought of children as the true miracles of this world. Their smiling faces and songs of laughter held only trust and purity and freedom."
McBean does a phenomenal job of building his characters and ratcheting up the tension and the fear that later begins to consume so many. Bloodshed and unfounded allegations combine with bigotry and intolerance to create an atmosphere so lifelike that I felt I was looking at a "real" town, instead of reading mere words on a page.
". . . what scared him most about the whole . . . situation wasn't the threat of violence . . . it was fear of the unknown."
These characters--particularly Toby and Mr. Joseph--emerge from this novel having grown so much, emotionally and mentally, from the horrors of the past and present. Even the inclusion of a supernatural presence, Haitian gods or "loa", and a man who walks although his heart stopped beating many years before, can not overtake the psychological aspect of what horrors and decisions Toby is forced to endure and contemplate. My only slight criticism is that I wish the main "villain" wasn't so obvious from the onset, even though their role was not the "heart" of the novel.
A boy will learn and live with many of the unfortunate attitudes of society, from pure evil to racism and unwarranted hatred. McBean has given us a novel with so many distinct layers that by the time you've peeled them away one by one, you won't be able to stop thinking about them, yourself.
". . . Some experiences brought people closer together; others caused a rift that was beyond repair . . . "
Not all truths are easy and pleasant to learn. . .
*I received an e-copy of this book from the publicist in exchange for an honest review.*
The Awakening is a coming of age horror tale with a twist. This is one of the best books I've read all year, and if you follow my reviews you know that that's a lot of books. Brett McBean has captured both the good and bad things about living in a small town and the people who live there. The quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, prejudices against those that are perceived as different or strange, the unthinking cruelty of both children and adults as well as the comfort of knowing who your neighbor is and a sense of history. The characters are realistic and easy to care about. I loved Toby and Frankie, the conversations and shenanigans they get into are utterly believable and at times laugh out loud funny. Toby's pain in the face of tragedy had me in tears. I also loved Mr. Joseph, a kind old man who has a fascinating history. Zombie books are everywhere these days and let's face it they can be pretty hit or miss in terms of being both original and good books. What you don't see a lot of is zombi's in their original form, brought about as a Vodou curse from an evil Bocor for revenge or to be used as a slave. The zombi in The Awakening is far more horrifying and sympathetic than the shambling dead that want to eat you and far less horrible and terrifying than some of the people you'll find here. I highly recommend this exceptional 5 star read.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
When someone shows up dead in their town, the people start to blame the old man with a bent neck. Kids who had been playing pranks on the old man start getting bolder, more daring in their cruelty. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so I will leave it here.
Brett McBean pens a very sad tale, one that explores the pain of loss and the horrors of how humans sometimes react to the unknown. Make no mistake, this is a horror story, and it does involve the supernatural. But this wonderfully-written novel is more than just a horror story.
One criticism I have is that there is a lot of n words thrown around. People in this small town treat black people in the worst of ways. People are fast to judge and quicker to blame. The story is set in 2008, if I am not mistaken, so I expected more people to speak up when such language and racism is thrown around, but soon even the parents are throwing around the word and blaming the easy target.
Unfortunately, Brett McBean paints a story that reflects what sometimes goes on. There is racism in the world, so to turn away from it or pretend it isn’t there would be a disservice to the reader. That being said, some people may not want to read about people being so cruel and judgmental to people just because they are different. It was hard for me to read at times because my family is multiracial, and I have seen how some kids treat my own son, just because of his skin – the names, the rumors.
Another small criticism: There was one uncomfortable scene in the book, about three pages long, which describes sexual acts between two teenagers. I skipped that portion, not really wanting to read about 14-year-olds doing such deeds.
Those are my only two criticisms.
All that said, it shouldn’t dissuade you from buying and reading this book. Brett’s descriptions are wonderful; I often found myself re-reading a passage, just to see how he pulled me in so much. His characters believable, even if their actions are sad sometimes.
The book is about 500 pages, but it reads fast. I finished it in two days, partially due to the speed, and partially because Brett is very good at making things suspenseful and mysterious. This coming of age does a good job at showing what it is like for a kid just about to enter high school – the confusion, the hormones, and the angst. He gets parents right, too – the worry, the love, and the mistakes.
Brett McBean also does a fantastic job of showing a foreign land. He must have done a lot of homework for this novel, as he really did bring Haiti to life in the eyes of this reader. Mr. McBean weaves in the supernatural in a way that makes it believable, and he does it without going over the top or being cheesy.
I really did enjoy this book. I look forward to reading it again someday.
I rated this as 5/5.
5 stars and a favorite
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