When the mysterious Adrien moves in next door, everyone is immediately taken with him. He’s cute and charming, and he seems to have nearly everyone under some sort of spell. Everyone except Meredith, his next door neighbor, who feels that something is off about him. Things get worse when she sees something in the cellar of his house that makes her think that Adrien’s not just a creepster. When he starts dating her sister Heather, Meredith realizes the situation might be dire. Can she save her sister without ending up in the cellar?
A.J. Whitten is a pen name for romance novelist Shirley Jump and her teenage daughter Amanda. The two have written one other book together–The Well, a modern take on Hamlet. With their second offering, the story of Romeo + Juliet is given a modern sheen and thrown into the YA Horror genre. A fast, quick read, fans of horror-lite will probably enjoy this story of forbidden love, tragedy, and zombies.
There are several things that Whitten does well. The first of these things is the construction of a fast-paced story. Whitten doesn’t waste time and doesn’t mince words, and Meredith and Heather’s story gets started right away, with Adrien showing up and casting a sort of spell over most of the town. Things progress quickly, and it isn’t long before Heather is smitten and Meredith is suspicious. The reader is treated to insights into Adrien’s plan, as well, helping to build suspense and create some terror as he tortures and eats victims in his cellar.
Which brings me to the other thing that Whitten excels at. The descriptions meant to convey horror and gore are done particularly well. When describing the hunt for prey and the slow process of eating said captured prey, the author(s) is clearly within her element: the scenes are gross and yet oddly fascinating. It’s clear that the mother-daughter team has a true passion for the horror genre, and they don’t shy away from a spot of violence.
However, there were things about the book that didn’t work for me as a reader. I never got a sense for any of the characters because they didn’t feel developed enough. Heather was annoying, Meredith was way too Mary Sue-ish for my liking, and everyone else felt like a bland stock character. Adrien wasn’t appealing, and while I realize that most people in the town were supposed to be under some sort of spell, the reader is supposed to believe that Heather’s love for him was true. There wasn’t enough of a personality there for me to see it. While I realize that the story is based on Romeo + Juliet, and that the basis of that story is a love-at-first-sight sort of thing, it still didn’t work for me here. Not believing in the love story, and not really caring about the love story made this a less exciting read.
Recommended for fans of YA horror and zombies.
The Cellar hits bookshelves on May 2, 2011.
The Cellar by A.J. Whitten: Graphia, 2011. Electronic galley from publisher.