Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom!: A member of the male species dares to step foot into our YA world. See More...

Ain’t That Peculiar?

Feral by Holly Schindler. It's too late for you. You're dead.

Ain’t That Peculiar?

BOOK REPORT for Feral by Holly Schindler

Cover Story: Close Encounters of the Blurred Kind
Drinking Buddy: A Rock Feels No Pain
Testosterone Estrogen Level: High
Talky Talk: The Winter of Our Discontent
Bonus Factor: The Basement
Bromance Status: This Onion Has Layers

Cover Story: Close Encounters of the Blurred Kind

With apologies to Kent Brockman.

If it's a romance, a YA cover will have giant teen faces. If it's a thriller/horror/mystery, it will have the blurry figure.

The Deal:

Claire Cain is a high school reporter who's going places. Only a teenager, she's already been awarded a prestigious journalism award. So when her best friend is set up by the local Chicago drug runners, Claire naturally clears her name. Everyone is impressed.

The drug dealers are especially impressed with her investigating skills. So much that they meet her in a dark alley one night to thank her. They thank her so hard it takes her months to recover. So hard that she can hear her bones breaking. So hard that she actually sees her body lying on the ground as she floats above it. Were it not for the timely arrival of the police, that might have been the last thing she ever saw.

Her horrified father moves her to the small (but real) town of Peculiar, Missouri, thinking the quiet rural setting will help her recovery. Claire agrees, she just wants to move on. But it doesn't help when she discovers the body of Serena, a local girl, frozen in the woods, being eaten by feral cats.

And now, Serena is haunting her. Dreams. Cats following her around. Visions. Flashbacks to that night in Chicago. Why is Claire the only one who can see all this? Was Serena's death really an accident? Why did she write the word 'cheating' on her hand? Why are the principal's eyes disfigured? Why did the school shut down the basement so many years ago? What's wrong with this town?

Drinking Buddy: A Rock Feels No Pain

Claire's father and the principal are the only ones in town who know what happened to Claire. All the other kids see her as a pretty, somewhat standoffish girl. They don't know how often Claire relives that horrible night.

And now Serena is visiting her. Not just Serena, either. There's the gangs of feral cats, nasty, bitey things. And Casey, the boy who offed himself in the locker room a few years back. And, well, the entire population of Peculiar Cemetery.

To the world, Claire has everything together. She's fine. But she has demons, and many of them are real.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: High

For starters, there's Rich, the hulking guy who lives across the road from Claire. A friendly guy who's kind of taken a shine to the new girl. He's nice...but Claire isn't ready for that. It's fortunate it's winter, so doesn't have to explain her scars.

But Rich is willing to play Fred to Claire's Velma, and seems okay to with the 'just friends' thing.

Now on top of that, there's Claire's past. That description of the beating...the whole time I was reading it, I kept hoping it was just a nightmare.

And then the Serena issue. While the local sheriff dismisses her death as an accident (crushed by a falling limb during an ice storm), the readers know this is not the case. And Claire suspects. Why wasn't Serena wearing a coat? And why was she in the woods, she had kind of a phobia of them. Why didn't she bring her asthma inhaler? Something doesn't add up, and Rich and his friends are beginning to see that.

But Serena, apparently, is not willing to wait for Claire to piece together the clues. You see, they had a lot in common: young, pretty, aspiring reporters. Serena's not ready to give up her life. She just needs someone's body to live in.

Talky Talk: The Winter of Our Discontent

The whole book takes place during a cold snap, where most of the town is either frozen in or at least not driving a lot. And there's something creepy about the winter. Something sterile and cold and malevolent...

Schindler does a great job of blending Claire's flashbacks with the present-day hauntings and creepy town secrets. Twists and turns, and never sure what's real and what's all in your mind.

Bonus Factor: The Basement

Claire is surprised to realize there's a whole other part of the school underground...classrooms, storage, even a gym. But that was closed down years ago. No one goes down there anymore. Just forget about it. It doesn't concern you.

And then there's the creepy woods...the weird general store...the cemetery...this is one odd town.

Bromance Status: This Onion Has Layers

I thought this was just going to be another ghost story, like all the others I've hung with over the years. Boy was I wrong. Get back! Get back, damn you!

Full disclosure: I've never actually watched The Godfather. Also, I got a free copy of this book from Harper Collins and was once on a writers' panel with the author.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.