Cover of What We Buried by Kate A. Boorman. A blonde woman who's face has been replaced with a scene of a man walking down an empty road

About the Book

Title: What We Buried
Published: 2019

Cover Story: Covergasm
Drinking Buddy: They Grow On You
Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Genre Bendre
Talky Talk: I need a Pit Stop
Bonus Factors: Disability, Pageant Culture
Bromance Status: Passing in the Night

Cover Story: Covergasm

Yep, the Lovecraftian nightmare on the cover is what drew me to this book. There’s an equally creepy picture of the brother on the back.

The Deal:

Liv Brewer has been a part of the beauty pageant/ reality TV circuit ever since she was a child. Her epic meltdowns were the stuff of high ratings and she eventually grew into the girl the audience loved to hate. But now that she’s an adult, she’s suing her parents, especially her domineering mother. The book opens with Liv, along with her fellow Darling Divas cast members, entering court to hear if they’re going to receive a settlement for having to perform like trained monkeys.

Liv’s brother Jory, who still lives at home, is not one of the beautiful people. He has Möbius syndrome, a form of facial paralysis that makes it difficult to speak or communicate via expression. He has a hard time sympathizing with a sister who was lauded on TV for her beauty.

But as Jory enters the courthouse with his parents, they vanish. They didn’t run away, they’re just suddenly not there. With the trial postponed and Jory ordered to move in with Liv until their parents are located, both siblings are anxious to locate Mom and Dad. But as the pair head toward the family’s isolated lake house, their one possible lead, strange things begin happening. And the siblings realize they have only each other to depend on.

Told in alternating viewpoints, we really get into both their heads…disturbingly so.

Drinking Buddy: They Grow On You

Two pints of beer cheersing

At first I didn’t care for the pair. Liv seemed to be the stereotypical beauty queen, bemoaning how hard it is to be good looking and famous. Jory had a chip on his shoulder and allowed himself to be pushed around by his parents, his sister, and the system. But as the book went on, I grew to like them. Liv reveals how a lot of the drama on the show was scripted and she was simply playing the part she was told to. The audience found it funny to see a tween queen throw a tantrum. She also had to deal with a pushy mother, sleazy talent agents, and backstabbing contestants.

Jory has his own cross to bear. It’s not easy being disabled, especially when people assume that a physical disability translates into mental impairment as well. He resents how his wealthy parents funnel all their attention to his ungrateful sister.

Sometimes all you need to reconnect with a family member is an obstacle to overcome, a long car trip, and the warping of the fabric of space and time.

Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Genre Bendre

I honestly didn’t know what kind of book to expect from the blurb. A mystery? A horror? Science fiction? Psychological thriller?

It’s a thriller. As the siblings travel through the lonely, unpopulated Nevada desert, odd things begin happening. Their cell phone dies. They keep traveling the same route over and over. Objects vanish and reappear. They run into strange people out in the middle of nowhere. Are these the doings of their fugitive parents? Is one of them gaslighting the other? Is someone after them? Or have they entered a strange Outer Limits realm?

The thrilling bits are intense, if not repetitive. You can only lose and rediscover a necklace so many times, and the car radio had an annoying habit of blanking out, right when the news reporter was going to say something about their parents.

Still, I didn’t see the ending coming.

Talky Talk: I need a Pit Stop

No matter how exciting the premise is, eventually things began to repeat themselves. Liv and Jory revealed secrets out of their pasts, but nothing mind blowing or earth shattering. They also had the annoying habit of almost thinking about something, tantalizing the reader with the unknown. The author would then revisit the same flashback again and again, moving forward a few paragraphs every time. I was tempted to thumb ahead.

The book kind of reminded me of the 2003 film Identity, with characters trapped in an inconsistent and frightening world. About halfway through the book I realized we were building up to a big reveal, and I would have rather it been a half hour Twilight Zone, instead of the two-hour M. Night Shyamalan epic that I read.

Bonus Factor: Disability

Close up of a hand on a wheelchair wheel.

With Jory’s facial paralysis he slurs his speech and cannot smile or frown. This leads others to assume that he’s either mentally impaired or standoffish. Years of being treated like this make Jory reluctant to communicate, further enforcing the stereotypes.

This was my favorite part of the book, the first person account from the disabled character. In one of the book’s best scenes, Liv gets into it with a waitress who insists on getting Jory’s food order from Liv. In another scene, Jory’s mother asks him to go get her a Frappuccino. His attempts to flirt with the barista are ruined when he has to repeatedly say the name of the drink. And he has an unusual name. “What’s that? George? Rory? What?” Is it any wonder he doesn’t go out of his way to make friends?

On the other hand, it’s interesting to see how others react to him. His sister often forgets he’s anything but her annoying younger brother, though she does do a double take when one of her fellow models asks “Has Jory been working out?”

Bonus Factor: Pageant Culture

Three little girls onstage at a Toddlers and Tiaras beauty pageant

No one really feels sorry for Liv and her ‘boo hoo, I’m beautiful’ attitude. But being on the beauty circuit isn’t easy, especially when half of America is hoping you’ll fail. Some of Liv’s memories are downright nasty.

Bromance Status: Passing in the Night

Not a road trip I’d like to repeat, but I’m glad we took it.

Literary Matchmaking

Thirteen Chairs

For another book where you can’t quite figure out what’s going on, read Dave Shelton’s Thirteen Chairs.

Dumplin’ (Dumplin’ #1)

Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ is a more upbeat look at the world of beauty pageants.

The Otto Digmore Difference (Otto Digmore #1)

In The Otto Digmore Difference by Brent Hartinger, we have another protagonist with facial deformities going on a road trip.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or mango chutney facial scrub.

Brian 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.