Today at the Brandon’s Horror Review I’m going to review a book called The Reading Buddy.
The Reading Buddy was released in 2017, but you’d never know that while reading it. It’s easy to get lost in The Reading Buddy and feel like you are reading something Christopher Pike wrote or RL Stine when he wasn’t churning out a gazillion Goosebumps books. I had a lot of fun with The Reading Buddy, and I figured the readers here at Brandons’s Horror Review might get a kick out of it too.
My History With the Book:
I discovered The Reading Buddy when I was followed by the author Bryce Gibson on Twitter. I don’t usually pay much attention to authors who follow me, but the description on his book caught my attention, “The Reading Buddy is a fun Southern set throwback to 90s teen horror novels that will keep you guessing until the very end!”
Being from the South and a huge fan of 90’s horror (especially teen horror) I couldn’t pass this book up. I bought a copy that day, but didn’t get around begin reading it until late January 2018.
What The Book Is About (Non-Spoiler):
A high schooler is haunted by the appearance of a man in a black rain jacket after narrowly escaping death.
What I Liked About It:
-I don’t read a lot of horror fiction, because quite frankly, I have a hard time creating the suspense within my head. But this book has a moment, that is so realistic and straight forward, I felt like I was there experiencing it myself. It turns out to be a false scare, but the one page build up was spot on and is the only time I’ve ever remembered actually feeling fear while reading a book.
-When I hear the phrase “Southern Fiction” I think of two things: William Faulkner and cheesy romance novels that take place in Asheville, NC. Being from the South, most of the local book stores have Southern Reading sections and they are pretty bland. The South is a wonderful setting and can provide a backdrop for just about any story but it’s usually only utilized by amateurs wanting to channel the next Gone with the Wind. I’m happy to report that Bryce Gibson doesn’t do this. You could leave the whole Southern setting out of the description of the book and it would still work well. However, being called “Southern Fiction” and then including horror in the description is what drove me to buy the book in the first place.
When I think Southern Teen Horror, my mind immediately goes to I Know What You Did Last Summer. It’s set at the beach in North Carolina and is small town USA. It’s not overly Southern, but if you know what you are looking for, you can see the Southern charm in it. The Reading Buddy is similar. It’s set in the small Southern town of Edgefield and the town feels real and lived in. It’s not flashy, nor does it have a lot going on, but it’s the little details that people from the South will pick up on like visiting a therapist at her home instead of an office, a local brewery, and the life of a factory worker wanting to break out and achieve something more. It wasn’t something creating the South based on clichéd and what they’ve seen on TV, this is actually a person from the South writing about a place that he knows and loves. That shines through in the writing.
-I didn’t know what to expect when beginning The Reading Buddy, because I haven’t read a Fear Street book in over twenty years. The descriptions said it was a 90’s homage, so I wasn’t sure if that meant it was set in the 90’s or just written in the style similar to those 90’s horror books. I can confirm that the book is set in the present day and is written in the style, size, and format of the 90’s teen horror novels.
For my own personal nostalgia, I would have loved to see this book set in the 90’s, but I don’t think there is much of an audience for that. Instead the book works in present day with teenagers who talk, act, and utilized technology like present day teenagers do. Being thirty-four years old, I’m a little past those days, but I could relate to the frustrations of the main character Blake, especially his social anxiety and feelings about being the new guy.
-The book doesn’t create characters for the sake of creating them. Each character has its own individuality and motives, and I like that. You are never 100% sure what to make of the characters, since it seems that everyone you encounter is hiding something. This added an extra level of depth to the story that affects the plot up until the final pages.
-The final twist. No spoilers, but it was great and well executed.
What I Didn’t Like About It:
-I feel like the book is at its strongest in the first two-thirds. The author does a great job of establishing a realistic setting with relatable characters. The final third of the novel starts to unravel the mystery that we’ve been introduced to and I don’t think it works so well. I try and avoid spoilers on this site, but let’s just say the first twist regarding Blake’s family was a little far-fetched for me, although it’s perfectly plausible in real life.
-There is a chase scene the builds up to the reveal of the man in the rain jacket and was way too short. It takes up maybe two pages, and I would have loved to see this fleshed out a lot more. It’s over almost as soon as it begins and once the reveal is made, one paragraph later we are on our way onto revealing another layer of the plot. It felt a little rushed.
I’m not the core audience for a book like The Reading Buddy, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. I never felt like the book was dumbed down for a younger audience. It’s only a teen horror because it features characters who happen to be teenagers.
Teen horror doesn’t get a lot of love nowadays and we are definitely not in the prime for teen horror book series like Fear Street. This makes The Reading Buddy a bit of an oddity in 2018, but I think that is also what makes it so attractive to read. You can tell the author took a concept he liked (teen horror) and decided to bring it into the modern age while setting it in a place he was familiar with (The South). There was a lot of love put into this project and that is something I can respect and appreciate.
So where does it rate on my usual 1-5 scale? Well, a novel is more difficult to rate than a movie. I feel like a teenager or someone who appreciates teen horror would find this an easy three out five and is very worthy of reading. For everyone else, your mileage may vary. But odds are if you are reading this blog, you are a fan of 90’s teen horror and would appreciate a new book that may remind you of the fun you had curled up on your bed reading a horror novel set during high school.