Review: Skeletal by Katherine Hayton ★★★★★

SkeletalThis book contains brief scenes of rape and physical abuse.

Set in New Zealand’s gateway to the South, Christchurch, this New Adult Urban Horror is a brilliantly sinister and completely original story of despair, darkness and the horrors of teenage life in a broken home.

You won’t read anything like Skeletal anywhere. Forget Carrie, and her weird religious-driven telekinetics, or Christine, and her firestarting habits. Forget Gone Girl’s Amy and her psychotics.  Compared to Skeletal, these unbridled female psyches would seem like a picnic to Daina Harrow, our protagonist.  Daina’s life is at its absolute limits of stress, and not all of it can be explained in the everyday world.

When Daina’s alcoholic mother starts taking drugs and stops feeding and clothing her out of their pathetic social income, it’s up to Daina to deal with getting to school every day without being attacked by someone or other. Her best friends are spiking her food with trippy drugs and she’s getting thinner by the day due to lack of hot meals. Her uncle has punched her in the face, and she’s reeling from a dark secret she can’t forget she saw in the classroom, when the bullies step it up to dangerous new levels. Daina can’t take it any more, but it’s OK, because just when she needed help, the grey man has turned up in her life, and he’s going to make it all better. But according to this mysterious figure, she’s going to have to starting investigating her friend’s dad if she’s going to achieve any peace.

From the outset, we know Daina is dead. Told in flashbacks from the moment her skeletal remains are discovered through a harrowing courtcase with no holds barred, the reader will piece together slowly the horrible truth about her life, death and the grey man.

Without giving away much, because this book is so skilfully poised in its narration, the way this unfolds is harrowing and raw but will drive page-turning behavior and staying up late to see what happens. Although it’s never truly expressed, the demonic undercurrent and the force of female teenage life hasn’t been put on paper before in quite such a jawgrinding, hell-heavy and psychologically twisting way as Hayton does it. This is something subtle, aggravating you with blunt needles out of your safe places, until you too join Daina’s world of futile resistance, and fully understand the limits to which she has been pushed, all of her short life.

Writing is wonderfully charactered and full of life. Daina is so compelling you won’t want to leave her alone, and you’ll struggle to meet her at the edges of sanity as she is pushed further and further by circumstances out of anyone’s control.

With echoes of The Lovely Bones and Donnie Darko, and the sort of of girl-on-girl psychic warfare in Heavenly Creatures, fans of alternative horror and YA fantasy will be screaming for more of this stuff. It’s the sort of book that is so honest and real, coming out of nowhere, that you may start wondering if some of these supernatural experiences are known to the author, because they are just that startling.  This book will haunt the bejesus out of you. Recommended.




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