Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-266565-2 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-266567-6 $8.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 9-12
Dario thinks he’s put his past behind him after running away at age twelve, legally emancipating at age fourteen, and acclimating well in his group home. Now, nearly eighteen and accepted to Harvard, he’s called home by his ailing father, horror movie mogul Lucien Heyward, for a grotesque sendoff: he wants to be buried alive before he dies. Guilted into attendance by his older brother and drawn by the possibility of reconnection with his childhood flame, Hayley, Dario returns to secluded Moldavia Studios for the event, which transpires even more horrifically than anticipated. Before he can flee with his sanity, however, the reading of his father’s will indicates that he now has responsibility for either returning Moldavia to solvency or selling it to the Rusty Blade company, purveyors of snuff porn. Milman has a field day with horror movie tropes, walking a nerve-wrackingly fine [End Page 440] line between gothic horror and send-up, challenging readers to discern just where the laughs and the shivers are leading. Is Dario’s mother, who was committed years ago to an asylum, really mentally ill? Was Lucien’s abusiveness prompted by grief, artistic passion, or pure evil? Does Hayley hold Dario responsible for her parents’ death? And what might an entire studio filled with lifetime employees dedicated to horror do if their livelihood is threatened? The massive tease is well played, but beneath Milman’s eerie/comedic mystery run powerful themes of family obligation, adult responsibility, and reexamining childhood trauma through the lens of maturity. And the award for genre-bending serio-comic tender horror debut goes to . . . Derek Milman.