Mister Jitters isn’t the only monster this town has created.
HARROW LAKE by Kat Ellis was on my radar the second I saw the amazing VHS tape arcs floating around, and then I read the premise and knew I had to get my hands on it. Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy of HARROW LAKE, and to The Write Reads for letting me participate in the blog tour! HARROW LAKE is out on July 9th 2020, so make sure it’s on your TBR, and check out the other stops on the blog tour!
Rating: 5 stars!
Read me for the:
- Deep psychological horror
- Complicated family dynamics
- Terrifying town legends
- MC in constant survival mode
- A sentient nightmare
Lola Nox thinks she’s un-scareable. Of course she does, she’s the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker. She’s seen everything there is to fear. Then her father is attacked in their New York apartment and she’s sent away to live with her grandmother, who she’s never met, in Harrow Lake. Harrow Lake is the creepy town that was the set for her father’s most iconic horror movie.
All the locals are completely obsessed with the film that made their town famous, and the police seem determined to explain away the strange disappearances. Worst of all there’s someone, or something, stalking her every move. The more Lola discovers about Harrow Lake the more it scares her, because if she doesn’t get out soon, her own secrets might be the death of her.
What did I think?
This book knows how to hit hard. Within one page of my eARC, I knew I was hooked, and Kat Ellis wasn’t afraid to raise the stakes before we’d even met the main character – I loved that I already knew I was pulled in for the long haul. The last chapter was equally potent – though of course I won’t talk about it because spoilers, and I loved the way it came back around to close the circle.
I adored Lola from the start. I have talked, at length, about how much I love unlikeable female characters. Because I do, I love them, and Lola is an excellent example of that. She’s got lots of unappealing, unfeminine traits, and each of them made me adore her more. I also think that it becomes clear the further into the book that a reader gets, that a lot of Lola’s perceived flaws are intentional. Initially, she seems a little bland and flavourless, and it’s only when you get to see Lola interact with Nolan, her famous father, and Moira, the grandmother she never knew, that you see the truth of it. Lola is a blank canvas on purpose, to survive social situations. She alters herself perfectly to fit the expectations of the person she’s speaking to – ensuring she behaves Optimally – and she resents the whole damn world for making her do it. With her father she’s obedient, and shakes off the resemblance of her mother, whereas with her grandmother she crafts herself perfectly in Lorelai’s image. Lola is our view point into Harrow Lake, an outsider as much as the reader is, and the fact that she’s an unreliable narrator only intensifies the atmosphere that the book creates.
The atmosphere throughout the entire book is intense. Amazingly, viscerally intense. I very rarely find a book that genuinely scares me, but about halfway through this book I dragged myself out to sit in the garden in the sunlight where I felt safer. That’s how powerful the effect this book had on me was. Everything in the book pulled together to create this effect. Lola, as the unreliable narrator, was telling us everything from her perspective, and as the reader gets further into the book it’s clear that her perspective is tainted in many ways to assume the worst.
The book is set in Harrow Lake, the town where Lola’s father filmed his greatest horror movie, Nightjar, and the town is frozen in time in the 1920s when the movie was set. Lola is walking in the footsteps of her father and her mother, and of Little Bird, Nightjar’s protagonist. The descriptions were so vivid that honestly? I’d love to watch Nightjar myself. Alongside the echoes of the horror movie, Harrow Lake is haunted by a town legend. Mister Jitters. I laughed the first time I read his name. I did not laugh any of the times after that. Mister Jitters was terrifying. He’s the town’s bogeyman, and the residents of Harrow Lake have developed strange routines and rituals to appease his hunger. These rituals like the bone tree, no burials, and other things I won’t talk about because spoilers, made him feel so powerful because everyone believed in him so fiercely, even when they didn’t say his name. I had to finish this in one sitting, because otherwise I knew I was going to have nightmares about him tap-tap-tapping.
On a completely opposite note, I really liked the little bit of romance in this book. I’m usually the first to criticise mis-placed romance, but this was perfect because it acknowledged that Lola was in no position to be feeling more than a crush. She was learning how to be herself, alone for the first time in her life, and how to discover a personality that wasn’t created by her father or grandmother. I loved that that was respected, and that Lola could have her crush without it being a part of the character arc we needed to see.
The ending of this book is basically completely impossible to talk about in a spoiler free way, which is a shame because I have THOUGHTS. But it tied together threads that were woven throughout the rest of the book, some of which I’d barely even noticed until suddenly they came together, telling a story about what makes a real monster. This book crawled under my skin and made itself a home there, and I can’t wait for people to start reading it so that I can scream about the ending with everyone I know.
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