Horrid by Katrina Leno

Title: Horrid

Author: Katrina Leno

Genre: Horror, Mystery, YA

Year: 2020

She couldn’t remember the first book she had eaten.

Jane North-Robinson is moving across country with her mother Ruth, after her father died and left them with no money. With no other option on the horizon, her mother decided to sell their house and go back to her childhood home, a place she hates and had promised never to go back to. North Manor is big, dark, full of broken windows and strange noises, and in the backyard there are huge rosebushes blooming out of season.

Jane is grieving for her father, but she does her best to adjust to her new life. She makes new friends at school, while at the same time becoming the target for the town bully and struggling to cope with her rising anger. Only her father and her books can calm her down, and now he’s gone. Whenever she’s upset, she picks up one of her childhood books and starts eating a page, slowly, feeling her anger fading as the paper settles in her stomach.

But anger is not her only issue. The house is getting to her: the strange noises, like steps on the upper floor; the lights flickering on and off in one of the empty rooms; the roses growing back wild and black after her mother cut down the bushes. She starts blacking out from time to time, and comes back to consciousness to find messages she doesn’t remember ever sending. Her mother feels far away, buried in her new job and evading Jane’s questions about the house and her past. It all seems to point to the “storage room” her mother keeps locked, and when Jane finally finds the courage to open the door, she doesn’t find piles of boxes inside, but instead a little girl’s room left untouched for years.

A closer look

The beginning of the book was sooo good. The house is creepy as hell. Jane hears footsteps, objects falling and rolling on the floor, knocks, even a piano playing in an empty room, and she tries to believe her mother when she says they are “settling” noises, but she just can’t. The book does an amazing job in describing how Jane’s fears mingle with the morbid need to find out what’s really going on. I found myself wishing for her to run away from the house and to go check out the noises at the same time.

She also has serious anger issues. Whenever she’s really upset, blood goes to her head and she reacts almost without realising it. Her father was really good at calming her down, but since he’s been gone she can only find relief by eating pages out of the books he used to read to her as a child. Her blind rage scares her and she tries to keep it under control, but from time to time it slips and it’s kind of scary. She also starts to zone out, and it’s incredibly unsettling when she finds out the texts she sent without realising.

Her friendship with the new girls is really sweet, and there’s a hint of a possible romantic interest, but it’s not really explored – which is good, because there really is no need or time for it in this novel. Melanie, the town bully, is a character that doesn’t get much of an explanation until the end. She seems to hate Jane even if they have never met before, and does everything she can to ruin her life. The other girls in the school justify her behaviour because of her sister’s illness, but Jane is sure there is something more personal to her hatred.

I think the atmosphere was the best part of the book. It’s also kind of a mystery, but I’m not sure how much the reader is supposed to wonder at the hints. They are scattered around cleverly enough, but I feel like the answer was quite obvious. Sure, you can’t really figure out all the details by yourself, but just from the first hints you can easily guess what the mystery is. And that’s where my biggest problem with Jane is. She is not a stupid girl, and she reads a lot of mysteries – she loves Agatha Christie, for example – so I expected her to catch up quickly. Instead she makes one guess, and then sticks with it despite all the evidence pointing to a different answer. She actually needs somebody to tell her. Like, really? I found it so annoying, I just kept screaming in my head for her to catch up. It could have worked if the hints had been a little bit subtler, but in the end it felt like the book was trying really hard to convince me to believe Jane’s guess. Which I couldn’t believe, because she was clearly wrong, and being obtuse about it.

And then, when I thought the book was about to end with the big “reveal” and maybe a plan to move the hell out of that place, shit went down. It was both creepy and way too rushed to make sense. I like what it was going for and it makes for a refreshing ending, but in my opinion it needed a bit more build-up to really work. Jane’s character does a full one-eighty in the span of ten pages or so, and then the book ends. I literally turned the page to read the rest, and there was nothing. It’s like the book reached its climax and decided to do without a proper resolution. I was baffled.

So, to wrap-up my thoughts about this book: it has a beautiful creepy atmosphere, the writing style is extremely compelling, and the mystery, even if it’s not that mysterious, is still interesting to find out. I find the ending to be a bit rushed, though, and I would have liked a little bit more. I think if you like Rory Power’s books, you’ll probably enjoy this one and vice versa.

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.

And when she was good,
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

About the Author

Katrina Leno is the author of The Half Life of Molly Pierce, The Lost & Found, Everything All at Once, Summer of Salt, and You Must Not Miss. Horrid is her most recent published work. She mostly writes hard-hitting stories with a sprinkle of supernatural elements, which I personally love. I only read Summer of Salt by her, but all of her books are on my list and will be read sooner or later.

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