Nate Kenyon’s new book is like a delicious horror literature smoothie that’s a blend of all the sub-genres I enjoy. It’s a post-apocalyptic survival story, conspiracy theory-realized story, a monster story, a coming of age (or not) story, all with a dash of The Thing thrown in for good measure. I mean this as the highest form of compliment, and do not at all to imply that Kenyon’s Sparrow Rock is pastiche, it’s not.
What it is, is a story that knows its roots. Kenyon knows the conventions of the genre, and tries his damnedest to make something honest and inventive in a niche that so many authors have written so many great works. And I really, really liked it.
The story centers on Pete, a high school student who has had to deal with some terrible things in his life, a sick mother and abusive father, even before he’s trapped with a group of friends in an advanced bomb shelter by nuclear war. Sparrow Rock is so plot twist laden that to summarize beyond the premise would be to enter spoiler territory, but let’s just say radioactive fallout is the least of the teen’s worries.
Kenyon writes teenagers the way they should be written, as intelligent fully formed human beings, some readers may try to find fault in just how “in the know” these kids are, but I suspect that those will be the readers furthest removed from high school. The teens use an amalgamation of high school biology and history coupled with years of fascination with internet conspiracy theories. As someone not too long out of high school (half a decade), I really connected with the character of Jay. I had a friend in school just like him, who was always sending me bizarre conspiracy theory message board threads and explaining all kinds of far-fetched “government secrets” that I had to be crazy not to believe.
Kenyon’s characterization takes a back seat to to his intricate and lightning paced plot, but it certainly got the job done. Exposition and flashbacks to Pete’s past are woven into the text at a refreshing pace and in such a way that they add rather than subtract tension to the post-apocalyptic action of the novel.
I’ve also read Kenyon’s debut novel Bloodstone, which is immensely enjoyable because takes a much more traditional approach to horror (that book’s haunted town makes a cameo in Sparrow Rock, if I’m not mistaken). But I must say that Kenyon’s latest is the book that had me running to fill up my Kindle with more. The audience for this novel is two fold, you can come into it looking for a simple scary survival story, or you can be attracted by the melancholia of the themes of loss and regret, but either way I bet you’ll really enjoy Sparrow Rock.