My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones – Review

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.

“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

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Thank you to NetGalley for this Advanced Reader Copy of one of my most anticipated 2021 releases! I read ‘The Only Good Indians’ and became absolutely entranced by Stephen’s work– and I knew I had to have more. Not only that, but the premise for this novel sunk its hooks into me; not unlike a wicked puzzle devised by Jigsaw himself. I grew up with horror– was raised by Laurie Strode and Pamela Voorhees, cut my teeth on Candyman and Hellraiser, and found my own Bay of Blood in A Nightmare on Elm Street. In short, I knew I would feel a kinship with Jade. I went into this story with high hopes, and Stephen didn’t let me down.

We meet our protagonist, Jade, in the midst of a life that has never felt solidly hers. Her mom left, her dad treats her like shit, and no one quite understands her at school. That is, except for her history teacher. It is under his guidance that she is allowed to explore the background and meaning of the slasher films she loves so much– detailing what makes up the specific sub-genre and chronicling the progression of the films from its black and white iterations to the newer, fruit-punch-blood soaked offerings. In horror, Jade finds meaning and structure. So, when a body washes up in her town of Proofrock, she recognizes her chance to finally be in the slasher she’s been dreaming of for years. However, she decides she is not the final girl, and sets out to prepare a newer inhabitant of the town to take the role before it’s too late.

Jade’s journey is not only a wild ride of references, dead bodies, and missteps, but also one of healing. This is akin to Stephen King’s IT in that it is a coming of age story that happens to be set within a bloody tableau. Jade is not only the product of a broken home, but is one of the few Native Americans in Proofrock, which only sets her further apart from her peers. It is amazing to watch her come into her own as this tale unfolds; with each point added to the body count, her spirit grows and her courage manifests in a way that could rival that of an angry mother bear. There are many times in life where we don’t feel like the hero of our story, but if this book teaches us anything, it’s that we will all rise to the occasion when it presents itself. I really recommend this book for any horror lover, any outcast searching for meaning, and of course– any Native American hungry for representation.

5/5 stars

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