The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

While stranded on campus over Thanksgiving break, 5 mismatched students use a Ouija board to inadvertently conjure a demon from the dawn of time.

When I was in middle school, I went through a brief obsession with Lois Duncan, one that usually left me reading well into the night to finish the book–knowing full well that after I was done I’d be unable to sleep. Like I cared.

The Harrowing reminded me of the scariest Duncan I remember, Stranger with my Face. The two books don’t have anything in common subject-wise, but what they do share is a certain aura of believability and emotional authenticity that heighten the Gothic plot into a nightmare thrill ride that feels like it could come true. Those of you who don’t really get the genre might need to be told that this is high praise.

The Harrowing is a basic haunting tale, but Sokoloff‘s dreamed up an origin tale that draws from a source I haven’t really seen utilized before. I was impressed with her fresh take on a familiar template, and pleased that she managed to scare me.

I just came back from a few days in lovely Cape Cod, where I attended a beautiful wedding and logged quality beach time with a bunch of friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough. The Harrowing was a great beach read, but the other book I brought, The Folded World by Amity Gaige, got put down and shut up after only 27 pages. Gaige’s book got named for some “5 under 35” award, which makes me despair for the future of literary fiction, because The Folded World was overwritten and pretentious and completely unbearable. I don’t often give up on books, but this was a clear-cut case of My Life Is Too Short, Even Though I Am The Superfast Reader.

I feel obliged to mention that my copy of The Harrowing was given to me by Sokoloff herself–we met up at BEA after having met online in a forum for WGA members. In cases like this, when dealing with friends and colleagues, I only post a review if I can honestly rave about the book. If I had any reservations about recommending it, I wouldn’t review it at all. That’s because professionally I’m a writer, not a critic.

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