The Horror High books are available on Kindle Unlimited, so I thought I should try them. Amazingly (to anyone who knows me), I started with book one. Yes! Finally! I have read the first book in a series FIRST.
The book starts with a prologue. Brad Forester and “the creature” are in the forest. For a long while I thought he was imagining his beast-companion, but no: he owns a panther. It’s named Alice.
Anyway, they’re visiting “the sacred ground,” which is some girl’s grave. Once they’re there Brad hears/remembers her voice, apparently breaking up with him, and then a second “low and evil” voice that says things like “she had it coming” and “the little tramp.”
Brad’s…Brad’s not in good shape, mentally. He remembers being told to bury her, and not to tell anyone. “You killed her,” the voice insists, and tells him to wash the blood off. But then Brad refocuses on getting his “other face” in place: Mr. Popularity.
Chapter one opens with Cassie Arthur making an enormous effort to get to the bus stop (not even her OWN bus stop, some other one) so Brad will give her a lift if he drives by. Ugh. Make better, more self-respecting choices, Cassie. And I’m not just saying that because Brad’s bad news; even if he was an actual cross between Prince Charming and a teddy bear, you should not be doing that.
Also, someone named Alice Gilbert went missing last year.
Someone named Jake Taylor likes Cassie. She blows him off and rushes to the bus stop.
Brad deliberately runs a dog over with his car. Cassie sees it, but convinces herself it was an accident and lies to the cops for him.For a YA horror novel this does a disturbingly good job of portraying the thought processes that keep women in abusive relationships.
Brad, meanwhile, keeps wads of cash in his car specifically for the purpose of bribing the police, which is a skill he learned from his father. I think I know who the “low evil voice” is. He looks at Cassie and thinks about how special she is, “just like Alice.” It’s genuinely creepy.
Brad steals Jake’s parking spot at school and then throws acid on him in lab, and both times manages to convince the principal (and Cassie) that Jake’s at fault.
Jake, who has never liked or trusted Brad, is quite obviously going to be the reason Cassie eventually figures out she’s dating a sociopath. I have such mixed feelings. On the one hand I wish she’d figure it out on her own without needing the help/rescuing by a good boyfriend. On the other hand, in real life I’ve seen women who only realized how badly they’d been treated in a relationship once they had a healthier, functional relationship for comparison. So….it strikes me as realistic, but I’m still not entirely happy with it.
Brad takes Cassie to the country club. His mother is an alcoholic and his father is angry and creepy and winks at Cassie, sort of inviting her to share his disdain for his wife. Jake, meanwhile, is a busboy there. Because of course he is.
Brad tries to run Jake off the road the next night, because the voice is telling him “hurt him or he’ll steal your girl.” The police don’t believe Jake, and also score some more cash off Brad.
Cassie believes Brad’s version of events. Jake starts getting a gun ready. Yikes.
He sneaks onto Brad’s estate but gets chased off by the panther, but not before he sees Brad wallowing around on the ground. (It’s girl-Alice’s grave, but Jake doesn’t know that.)
Jake phones Cassie to warn her Brad’s dangerous and keeps some kind of wild animal, but she still thinks he’s making “unfounded accusations” and threatens to call the police. I’m trying not to hate Cassie but she’s not making it easy.
Brad manipulates Cassie into going to his house after junior prom. She lets herself be talked into this even though he lied about his parents being home. But then she gets freaked out when he introduces her to HIS PET PANTHER.
Brad stood over her, a cruel look in his face. “I thought you were different, Cassie. I thought you’d understand. But you’re just like everyone else. You say you love me, but you really don’t.”
“Don’t beg,” he told her. “Have some dignity since you’re going to die. You have to prepare yourself for death.” (loc 1141)
He tries to throw Cassie off a cliff into the ocean, but Jake shows up and Brad (and his car) end up going off the cliff instead.
Cassie and Jake go confess to the sheriff, and try to tell him about girl-Alice and panther-Alice. The sheriff initially doesn’t believe them at all. When he eventually checks it out, Brad and the car aren’t there.
Someone throws Alice Gilbert’s diary into Cassie’s bedroom. Later, someone puts Alice’s dress in Cassie’s room. I thought this was just some kind of gaslighting, but Jake says Brad’s alive and is going to try to frame them for Alice’s murder.
Anyway. Brad kidnaps Cassie’s younger sister Andrea, and Cassie and Jake (and Jake’s gun) stage a rescue mission. Cassie dresses as Alice and confuses Brad, and it’s working until Brad’s father shows up.
The book abruptly goes from terrifying to kind of heartbreaking. Because Brad isn’t simply evil: he’s broken. It’s really pitiable.
Brad came up slowly, turning toward his father. “You!” he cried. “You killed Alice. I remember now, Dad. It was you.”
“Shut up, Brad! I mean it!”
Brad’s eyes narrowed. “You hit Alice because she wouldn’t give in to you. You were after her. She told me. You drove her away, Dad.” (loc 1702)
Brad’s father tries to kill Cassie and Jake, but Brad’s had enough and sets the panther on him. Mr. Forester shoots the panther as it rips out his throat, and they both die.
In the last chapter Jake and Cassie AREN’T dating, which surprised me. They’ve been through a lot and weren’t ready to rush into anything. Huh. Cassie’s been to visit Brad in the hospital, and he isn’t doing all that well.
Everyone in town thinks Mr. Forester died of a heart attack and went on vacation early, because Mrs. Forester bribed the sheriff to keep everything else quiet.
I’d hate her for the continued bribery, but she ALSO instructed the police to go recover Alice Gilbert’s body and she blames her husband for everything that happened, and I’m kind of on her side. Her regrets and anger are pretty believable for someone who’s been drinking to avoid an abusive relationship and now realizes that doing so put her son in danger.
Then Cassie and Jake admit they’re still traumatized but they love each other.
But it would take some time for them to find out if their feelings were real. (loc 1839)
All in all, this book was unexpectedly realistic regarding abusive relationships and the emotional aftermath of trauma. The result was unsettling and creepy.