Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

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Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Olivia Mitchell
Reviewed by Olivia Mitchell
Summary: A captivating, creepy and clever YA horror thriller, full of unnerving twists and turns, featuring dark monsters - some that we may know all too well.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2020
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0241397046

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When we first meet 17-year-old Lola, daughter to legendary horror movie director Nolan Nox, she is saying goodbye to New York City - by sneaking out and stealing from its residents. But when she is found by her father's assistant and forced to come home, she arrives to find an unlocked door, a trail of blood, and her father dying in his study. And so, while he recovers, she is sent off to live with her grandmother in Harrow Lake, the small 1920s town in Indiana that served as the location for the film that made her parents famous. But something about this place isn't right. There's a darkness inside the people here. Secrets about her mother and dark tales of the town's cannibal monster 'Mister Jitters' fill every corner, and disturbing happenings plague Lola. But with every passing hour, secrets long buried come painfully to light and she begins to think that these stories may not be stories at all, and something very real and sinister lurks in Harrow Lake.

Lola has a very complicated relationship with the world and the people around her – especially her controlling father. She calls him by his first name, as he prefers. She both resents him and harbours a need to behave in an 'Optimal' way to please him, his presence inside her head chiding her when she even thinks out of line, a result of years of mental abuse and manipulation. Often, she does it herself, 'correcting' herself when she doesn't behave 'Optimally'. And yet she loves him, and needs him - he is her father after all, and he is her world. He keeps her to himself, never letting her do anything except with his express permission, and so her world really just consists of the two of them. Her mother, Lorelai, left when she was 5, and Lola barely remembers her - though that swiftly changes. She is rebellious, argumentative and cold at first, an attitude which is typical of a girl who grew up with a famous and manipulative father, and needed to keep secrets and quietly act out as revenge for years of having simultaneously too much and too little attention – or she just needed to find a way to cope and ease the pressure inside her head.

She is damaged. Her pain and trauma are buried deep, but impact everything she does. So, when she is left on her own, she is thrown by the world without her father's constant presence and struggles to interact with the people in the outside world. As the story progresses we see her unravel, years of secrets and manipulation alongside the horrors of Harrow Lake breaking her apart.

The book uses classic horror movie tropes, almost as a homage to its own context. Figures appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. Little girls giggle and wave in the darkness. The chattering of bones and insects like the gnashing of teeth. Shadow monsters with jerky, overstretched limbs. Dolls that come alive. It creates an unsettling and twisted tale, which is very engaging to read. There is a fantastically rich backstory and a deep understanding of Lola's psyche in this Stephen King-esque book - the author knows every corner of the world they've created, and it shows.

The story is not just about the unnatural horrors of the town, but about the horrors that plagued Lorelai, even when she thought she escaped- and that monsters are more often human, and those same monsters that tap at the back of Lola's mind. It is well structured, teasing secrets and moments buried deep within Lola and the town, keeping you curious and guessing until the shocking end. The language is intense and real, manifesting this bewildering and un-nerving world for the reader. It is full of twists and turns, with the entwined strands of Lola's attempt to unravel the secrets surrounding the past, the complex family relationships and the dark, ever-looming monster closing in creating a creepy and intense horror thriller that I really enjoyed.

In the end, this book is not just about the darkness in Harrow Lake. It's about the darkness that swirls in the characters, in their families, and in the dangerous secrets kept by many - the darkness inside us all.

Further Reading:
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson – An addictive, clever YA crime thriller with a loveable female protagonist. Full of shocking twists and turns and set against the backdrop of modern teenage life.
One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus – A deft, twisty murder mystery set in the corridors of an American high school.

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