Preface: Some of you will read this review and wonder why I gave it such a high score when I had such a big problem with a certain aspect of the storyline. Those of you who feel confused by my rating should know that, yes, this book is terrific. It transported me to another time and place. For me, it effortlessly captured a sense of nostalgia for something I never experienced. I wasn't alive in the 60s. I didn't grow up in a small town, though I did live in one for my final years as a teenager. I only had one close friend and not a group of buddies. And while I was a fat book nerd like Duane is in the book, I never had a good relationship with my father. Those are the aspects of this book I enjoyed, even though I have no experience with those things. This book allowed me escape. That, above all else, is why the book's getting 4 stars instead of a much lower rating. Because if I scored it based solely on the plot, I'd likely give it a low 3.
Minor spoilers from here on out.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room, I believe, is the school. We find out in the very first chapter that this is the last year Old Central, the school all four of our main characters attend, is going to be torn down the summer in which this story takes place. And that's the problem I have with the plot. The entire time while I was reading, I kept thinking, "If the boys do nothing at all, the evil will be vanquished. If they only wait, it will be destroyed, or found out, or, at the very least, moved to another location." Simmons tries very hard to give the reader reasons for the boys to act, but red flags kept coming up throughout the narrative. The reasoning behind the boys' research into the school is weak and, in the grand scheme of things, does not matter. Why should they go looking into the school at all when it's being torn down at the end of the summer? None of the boys liked Tubby so why the fuck are they looking for him? Why isn't the school being torn down until AFTER the summer is over? Why isn't the school buzzing with the activities of the demolition crew? It takes weeks of preparation to bring down a building that size. Where the fuck is everyone? The human henchmen weren't working to keep the demolition teams away. They were wasting their time trying to kill or scare four kids and anyone who helped them. The boys should not have been the greatest threat to the evil within the school. The threat should have been the imminent arrival of a wrecking crew. Which begs the question, "Why did the school have to be torn down in the first place?"
Much of these issues are the same issues I had with Carrion Comfort. I did not believe the villains' motivations in that book, and I did not believe the motivations in this one. It bugged me. Throughout the entire book, it bugged me.
All that being said, I enjoyed myself. Simmons took several risks that paid off in spades. Halfway through, the mood of the book changes drastically. It's been a long time since I sat back, mouth agape, thinking, "That did not just happen. No way was that real. Where could the story possibly go from here?" Having such a shocking mood-altering scene in the middle of your book takes a lot of balls.
Overall, what this book does exceptionally well is the Three Ds of Horror: Dread, Disgust, and Death. Simmons nailed that aspect. More than once I found myself chewing at my nails or crinkling my nose, and I never knew who was going to die next. Bravo.
In summation: Do I think everyone or anyone else will have the same issues I had with this book? No. In fact, it's likely no one else has mentioned the problems I had while reading. And that's because this book provides a means of escape. Don't mind the gorilla and you should have a lot of fun.
Final Judgment: Come for the Three Ds, stay for the nostalgia.