If anyone discovers a source of mysterious power that can help solve all their problems, it is probably too good to be true. That is certainly the case in Come As You Are, a chilling YA horror novella from author Steven Ramirez.
When Ivan, an often-bullied seventh grader, finds a magical notebook in an old locker at school, he thinks that his middle-school years might be salvageable after all. The list that this notebook contains doesn’t necessarily make sense, but Ivan knows that he must complete the list if he wants to unlock the full potential of this talisman. However, what starts off as a game – and a shortcut to revenge against the bullies at his school – takes a much darker turn.
It’s not long before the true nature of the notebook reveals itself, and claims its first victim, a sacrifice in the form of Ollie – Ivan’s only friend. From that point, early in the novella, Ivan’s life begins to spin out of control, and the boundary between reality and fantasy begins to blur.
Doing his own digging into the truth of the notebook, while trying to control his new demonic powers, Ivan turns to the janitor at school, a man who seems to know more than he is letting on. As it turns out, he was once in a similar position as Ivan, or at least his life was similarly scarred by that horrific book. More than four decades earlier, he had lost one of his best friends to the dark powers unleashed by that list. Since then, he has been guarding a cursed locker in the school, protecting the world, and a new generation of children, from the terrors it contains.
There is no telling what direction this novella is going to swing, as the writing is fast-paced and targeted at a younger audience, so the surprises come quickly and the scenes are relatively brief. The dialogue is fairly simplistic, but appropriate for younger readers, and Ivan’s character is well-crafted for a YA storyline. The bullied anti-hero is a popular trope in this genre of fiction, and it works particularly well in this take on the storyline.
While the writing is highly informal, packed with slang and self-referential narration, it makes for a quick read. On the downside, some of the other characters don’t receive the same detailed attention as Ivan, such as his parents, and a few of the plot points don’t feel fully fleshed out or finished. As a whole, the story is engaging and exciting, but it sometimes moves too fast for its own good. Spending more time on description, character building, and fully developed conversations would make this novel even stronger.
Following up on a long-form trilogy of horror novels, a brief novella is certainly out of character for Steven Ramirez, but Come As You Are is successful at sending chills down your spine over the course of a fast and enjoyable read.
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