Description (from Goodreads):
Nineteen-year-old Ry Burke, his mother, and little sister scrape by for a living on their dying family farm. Ry wishes for anything to distract him from the grim memories of his father’s physical and emotional abuse. Then a meteorite falls from the sky, bringing with it not only a fragment from another world but also the arrival of a ruthless man intent on destroying the entire family. Soon Ry is forced to defend himself by resurrecting a trio of imaginary childhood protectors: kindly Mr. Furrington, wise Jesus, and the bloodthirsty Scowler.
It took me a while to read Kraus’s previous book, Rotters, but I was blown away by it when I finally did. I knew I had to read Scowler as soon as I could get my hands on it, and it did not disappoint. In both books, Kraus writes about the darkest places in an adolescent boy’s soul. Even though Rotters is about a couple of graverobbers, I found Scowler to be even more intense and raw. There are no corpses here (okay, there are, but they’re fresh), but the mounting tension of a terrifying father returning to seek revenge on his family after he breaks out of prison is only intensified by the madness brought on by the crashing of a radioactive meteoroid.
I found it fascinating to see the parallels in these two books. Both feature a father and son, estranged from one another. The son wants to distance himself from the horrible thing the father is, but must eventually embrace it, leading him into madness, in order to ultimately overcome that part of himself. In Scowler, as a child Ry saved his mother from his abusive father. The level of abuse will turn your stomach, so if you can’t handle horrific domestic abuse, I’d stay away from this one and read Gossip Girl or something instead.
When Ry saved his mother, he had three of his toys with him during a night in the woods with his father in an unending pursuit: Mr. Furrington, a stuffed bear, Jesus, a bendy Christ figurine, and Scowler, a disturbing piece of folk art that would strike fear in any heart. Even with his father in jail for years, Ry never quite recovered from that night. When they find out that his father has escaped and is gunning for them, Ry must once again rely on the “unnamed three” to help him harness his own emotions in order to fight his father.
One interesting aspect of this book was the descent into madness by the two main male characters, while the women really hold it together. Ry’s mother is able to hold her own against the man who nearly destroyed her, and is also able to stand up to her son when he’s completely losing his marbles. She stays cool and collected during the worst of ordeals, and is an incredibly strong character. Likewise, Ry’s little sister has her own moments of heroic greatness, and despite being ill, manages to play an important role in the family’s struggle for survival.
I barely even mentioned the meteoroid, but that plays a huge role too. This book has a lot of thematic depth and incredibly well-drawn characters. It’s also quite terrifying. Over and over, I was reminded of The Shining while reading this, which is high praise. I think readers with the stomach for the darkest spaces of the human psyche will love Scowler. I can’t wait to see what nightmare Kraus dreams up next.