Written by: Juno Dawson
Illustrated by: Alex T. Smith
Published in the UK in 2018 by: Barrington Stoke
REOPENING THE DOOR
“That future wasn’t meant to be and I was an arrogant fool to challenge fate.”
A brief-yet-pointedly macabre horror novella spread over just 140 occasionally-illustrated yellow-hued pages, young adult author Juno Dawson’s twisted tale of first loves lost and best left lost is a quick read perfectly suited to entice reading adverse older teens and dyslexics alike.
17-year-old A-level student Samuel’s world is devastated when his girlfriend Eliza is tragically killed in a car accident which Samuel feels culpability for. While his priestly pa and doctorly ma try to swiftly return their son’s life to a semblance of normality with a toxic concoction of faith and medication, Samuel instead hunts down his disinherited aunt, an old school witch doctor whose enigmatic contact known only as The Milk Man may well hold the key to reanimating the dead…
Given the brevity of the plot, a sprinkling of modern social issues – race, class, loyalty and religion – are hinted at in an off-hand, awkwardly forced kind of way so to give the illusion of emotional depth and worldly context for the more community conscious key demographic. But really Dawson is most interested in the spooky, twisted central conceit as a grieving, guilt-ridden Samuel fears he is being haunted by a shadowy creature and must “close the door” to the other side he so carelessly left open to herald Eliza’s supernatural return.
Dawson shows flashes of poetic language and a fully rounded comprehension of story structure, but Grave Matter is ultimately too fleeting to linger long in your memory. All too often Samuel is tasked with a truly devilish deed as part of the ritual he must carry out, only for the story to jump to the aftermath and avoid the most grisly details. This might be to avoid too much nightmarish gratuity, but it also gives an already short story a staccato pace while it could benefit from some flesh on its skeletal bones.
CR@B’s Claw Score: