Horrid by Katrina Leno – Review

From the author of You Must Not Miss comes a haunting contemporary horror novel that explores themes of mental illness, rage, and grief, twisted with spine-chilling elements of Stephen King and Agatha Christie.

Following her father’s death, Jane North-Robinson and her mom move from sunny California to the dreary, dilapidated old house in Maine where her mother grew up. All they want is a fresh start, but behind North Manor’s doors lurks a history that leaves them feeling more alone…and more tormented.

As the cold New England autumn arrives, and Jane settles in to her new home, she finds solace in old books and memories of her dad. She steadily begins making new friends, but also faces bullying from the resident “bad seed,” struggling to tamp down her own worst nature in response. Jane’s mom also seems to be spiraling with the return of her childhood home, but she won’t reveal why. Then Jane discovers that the “storage room” her mom has kept locked isn’t for storage at all–it’s a little girl’s bedroom, left untouched for years and not quite as empty of inhabitants as it appears….

Is it grief? Mental illness? Or something more…horrid? 

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There are very few new releases that I get excited about. It’s not always because I’m not interested in them, but usually it’s because I’m so far removed from the buzz that I only find out about novels as I’m browsing in a bookstore– but those moments have been hard to come by in this changed world we find ourselves in. However, Twitter popped the cover for this book into my feed, and I was immediately hooked. I know the adage is NOT to judge a book by its cover, but with the promise of something Horrid and a plant-based dread reminiscent of Rory Powers’ Wilder Girls, I was foaming at the mouth to get to this story. I received it for Christmas, and despite being in a depression-made book slump, I picked it up and loved every single tension-filled page.

We meet Jane and her mother Ruth as they prepare to move across country to Ruth’s childhood home. Jane’s father died and left them with nothing– so the pair had no choice but to return to the dilapidated mansion of Ruth’s past, which is filled with ghosts of a life once lived. The house creaks, the roses outside are black and unusually fragrant, and what seem to be memories that are haunting the inhabitants of the secluded manor start getting more and more real until Jane herself is questioning whether or not she is losing what sanity she has left. The whole town seems to know something about her family line that she doesn’t, and so it is a race to the truth before someone (else?) gets hurt.

I loved the characters in this book so much, but especially Jane. There is a streak of rage in her that she quells with eating pages out of books that she loves. This really spoke to me in that I know what it feels like to love something so much that you just want to devour it, and growing up as an only child, the pages of novels were my only companions sometimes. It also made me insanely curious, so I started googling what would happen if you ate paper, and started considering trying it for myself when I learned it was mostly harmless! I should note that I also pine for other things I am not supposed to eat, like polyhedral dice or crystals. Needless to say I felt a kinship to our protagonist; but it wasn’t just the pica that drew me to her. Her relationship with her mom reminded me of my own, and the secrets building between them caused a new layer of anxiety on top of the mystery that was unfolding.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I would like to just give a hearty shout-out to the ending of the novel. There are a lot of horror books that try to wrap things up with a pretty little bow and with good prevailing over all. Katrina has crafted what I consider a true tale of fear that the likes of Stephen King would praise, because she answered the riddles posed by the plot while also leaving the reader with even MORE to consider even after the last page has been turned. I loved the slow burn, and how the flames gave birth to an unrelenting genetic mental illness that permeates the stagnant air of North Manor. It presents to us the roots of a dysfunctional family while still not disturbing the soil of the plot they were buried in. The narrative roses Katrina planted are strong and vibrant, and I will be smelling them for years after they’ve been plucked.

5/5 stars