A big thank you to Penguin Books for this eARC, and to The Write Reads for coordinating such a large and successful tour. This really has been an interesting one!
I’m going to just quickly drop a reminder that when ARCs are sent out, they are done so in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. Not everything I have to say about this book is complimentary, but I think it’s important to include so that people can go into reading this with their eyes open. I am glad to have read it, and would recommend it to some people – just not all.
Harrow Lake is a Young Adult thriller that focuses around a town by the same name, almost frozen in time after being used as the set of a horror film nineteen years before our story begins. Centering around the film director’s daughter, we follow her journey to the town, and through this history that her family has tried to forget – and suppress. The synopsis says;
“Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her. But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot.
The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.
And there’s someone – or something – stalking Lola’s every move.
The more she discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her…“
Publisher: Penguin Random House Children’s UK
Number of pages: 320
Dimensions: 198 x 129 mm
The first thing to say is that the writing is absolutely captivating. Kat Ellis has written a book that very much grabs you by the lapels (as would fit such a place as Harrow Lake) and throws you head first into a novel, without pause or hesitation. A lot can happen over 320 pages, it turns out! And what a lot that does happen.
The book is narrated by Lola, who, despite being largely unlikable, becomes more endearing as time goes on, and you get to know her more. One of the clever tactics Ellis has used to keep this thriller so utterly thrilling is to give us an unreliable narrator. Lola doesn’t always tell the truth, and when she does tell the truth – well, it’s only so many times you have to tell yourself a lie before it becomes your own truth, isn’t it? It works very well, especially as Lola begins to truly doubt herself and what she knows, and we are pulled along with her.
On the note of Lola, one of the things I found a bit uncomfortable with reading this was the way that mental health was not handled with due care. It was almost as if it was used purely as a useful plot device, without thinking about the consequences, both to characters and readers. This feels irresponsible, especially in a time when young adult mental health rates are climbing, and services are at an all time low. There is more than a hint at childhood abuse, and again, this seems to be used as a plot device rather than as a point of meaning.
There are a lot of things we don’t quite get answers to as well, which is a disappointment, as this had the potential to be tied up neatly. But then, to contradict myself, maybe that can be seen as part of the beauty of the novel; that it doesn’t all finish neatly, that there is no final bow on top.
It’s a difficult book to review as there is much of it that you are best going into not knowing for enjoyment, so this possibly one of the most awkward reviews I’ve ever written.
Designed as perfect reading for any cult-classic fans, this book is a thrilling and chilling introduction to horror reading for teenagers, or maybe us adults who like to be scared. This really isn’t one you want to read late at night or alone in the house! With enough deep descriptive work to really get your heart pumping, Harrow Lake has its faults, but ultimately is the ideal read for anyone who needs a book to keep them on edge from the first page. None of this is what you are expecting.