- Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis
Ellis, Kat Harrow Lake. Dial, 2020 [304p] Trade ed. ISBN 9781984814531 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9781984814548 $10.99 Reviewed from digital galleys R Gr. 7-10
When her father ends up in the hospital, Lola is sent to Harrow Lake, the hometown of her estranged mother and the backdrop for her director father's most infamous horror movie, Nightjar. No one in Harrow Lake is particularly welcoming, and they're all obsessed with the same things: Nightjar, Lola's mom (the star of the movie), and the legend of Mister Jitters, a creature who stalks the town's abandoned mines. There's more here than just some folksy story meant to scare outsiders, though, and Lola's connection to the town might mean a connection to the monster. The book starts as a familiar horror setup, with a fair amount of contrivance landing seventeen-year-old Lola in Harrow Lake, but it soon happily goes off the rails as the town amps up for the annual festival celebrating Nightjar (which culminates with people feasting upon a life-size cake version of Lola's mother), Lola's childhood imaginary friend shows up to warn her about Mister Jitters, and her grandmother becomes increasingly agitated, accusing Lola of being just like her mother, "a rotten, lying little bitch." Ellis deftly keeps the pace moving, leaving little time for questions and sweeping readers along on a thrilling mindbender; the scare factors are executed with just the right amount of flair, indulging in a bit of campiness only to pull back for some true terror. Lola is intriguing as a distrustful, prickly girl who both hates and yearns for her distant father, and she's easy to root for even as her narration becomes unreliable. Some loose plot threads leave the supernatural element a bit muddled, but the ending points towards monsters of the more human type, and their fate is clear and particularly satisfying.