Halloween Review: The Sleepwalkers by J. Gabriel Gates

Paperback: 329 Pages

Series: Stand alone

Publisher: HCI Teens

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“A chilling and masterfully crafted teen horror novel guaranteed to keep the pages turning, the mind reeling, and the lamp on any reader’s bedside table on long after midnight. 

Privileged and popular Caleb Mason is celebrating his high school graduation when he receives a mysterious, disturbing letter from his long-lost childhood playmate, Christine. Caleb and his jokester friend Bean decide to travel to his tiny hometown of Hudsonville, Florida, to find her. Upon arrival, they discover the town has taken a horrifying turn for the worse. Caleb’s childhood home is abandoned and his father has disappeared. Children are going missing. The old insane asylum has reopened, and Christine is locked inside. Her mother, a witch, is consumed with madness, and Christine’s long-dead twin sister whispers clues to Caleb through the static of an a.m. radio. The terrifying prophesies of the spirits are coming to pass. Sixteen clocks are ticking; sixty-six murdered souls will bring about the end of the world. As Caleb peels back layer after layer of mystery, he uncovers a truth more horrible than anything he had imagined, a truth that could only be uttered by the lips of the dead.

Caleb is an 18-year-old boy with big plans and an entire life already planned out: he wants to travel to Africa, be a journalist, marry his girlfriend Amber and have a kid with her, eventually.

Bean, his best friend, isn’t one to plan, all he wants to do his leech off of his parents for as long as he can, without having to get an actual job or go to college.

Everything changes, for the both of them, when Caleb receives a letter from his childhood friend, Christine, a letter that doesn’t make much sense, but that compels Caleb to leave everything behind and head to Hudsonville, his hometown.

Let me just start by listing all of the things I like, and even love, about this novel. I like Caleb, even considering some of the stupid choices he makes along the way, but I love Bean. Such a fun, easy-going, friendly guy, he brings comic relief to this novel. His dialogue and friendship with Caleb are both natural and believable; by that I mean the teen speak was handled okay and Gates didn’t go overboard with the likes of “dude” and “like”.

I like how the dream sequences with which the novel starts creeps you out at first, but becomes important and makes sense later on in the story.

Also, sign me up as a fan of Gates’s writing. His prose is beautiful, descriptive, gritty, raw and unapologetic. He manages to portray the creepiness of a small town tight-knit community very well and easily weaves the normal narrative with hospital transcripts, memory scenes, and so on.

Probably the biggest thing I appreciated about The Sleepwalkers is that you never, and I mean NEVER, know where the story is going to take you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read a dozen horror/mystery novels, you still won’t be able to predict the next twist. In other words, this book is a, pardon my french, mind fuck.

And then..there are the things I didn’t enjoy, like the third person pov narrative, and this time it’s not because I’m not a fan. I think the novel would have benefitted, were it written from a first person narrative, making it scarier. As such, I didn’t find the book to be a “sleep with your lights on” kind of horror novel, merely eerie and sinister. But it does good at that.

I didn’t like the pacing, it was just so uneven and downright slooow at times, making for a very jerky read.

Furthermore, what is up with Caleb and his amazing, spidey-sense intuition? He always knows when to stay, when to go, when to press on, when to stop. “Getting a feeling” works well in horror movies, not on paper.

However, perhaps the worst mistake of all was  trying to stuff this book with anything and everything that Gates considers scary. Killer clowns, sociopathic murderers, hunted asylums, end of the world prophecies, witches, the devil. Just pick one and stick with it! Make it work, make it the main character, the main attraction and scare the living days out of your readers with it.

In the end, this book disappointed me because I was expecting more from the author. It started on a (very) high note and slowly went downhill from the middle of the book.

I did experience a couple of genuinely frightening moments and, as I’ve already said, Gates is a talented writer so you might as well give The Sleepwalkers  a try. You never know, the weird concoction of horror elements might work for you.



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