YA Weekend: Nightstruck by Jenna Black
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Paranormal, Horror, Young Adult
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Tor Teen (April 5, 2016)
Length: 304 pages
I’ve always been a bit wary of “dark” or “horror” YA because so often they don’t live up to those descriptions, but I think I’ve finally found one worthy of those labels. I had a surprisingly good time with Nightstruck, a young adult novel with chilling story that actually shocked me with a couple of its disturbing twists and turns.
It all began with a baby. Or, more precisely, what protagonist Becket thought was a baby, abandoned on the church steps on a cold night in Philadelphia, while she was out walking the dog. Unable to ignore its desperate cries for help, she goes and picks up the bundle, only to find two inhuman green eyes glowing back at her from within the darkness of the folds. The “baby” then crumbles into black dust, the remnants of it dispersing onto the wind like ashes. And thus begins the city’s descent into madness. For days, Becket keeps what she saw a secret, convinced that no one would believe her. But soon, others start to notice their surroundings changing. At first the changes are subtle, such as reports that everyday things around the city are being replaced with obscene or disturbing imagery—easy enough to ignore or dismiss. By the end of the week though, police and hospitals are overrun and baffled by the flood of panicked citizens claiming to have been attacked by inanimate objects that have come to life and transformed into living monstrous constructs.
Worst of all, even though these terrors are witnessed by many, no one has been able to capture any of it on film. Still, no one wants to admit that the causes are paranormal, least of all the federal government. Suspecting a contagious virus or something environmental like hallucinatory agents in the water, Philadelphia is quarantined—which, of course, only makes things worse. Whatever is changing the city starts changing its trapped citizens as well. All across Philly, people are going missing only to emerge again crazed and violent when the sun goes down. Dubbed the “Nightstruck”, they travel the streets in packs to prey on those unfortunate enough to be out after dark. What’s curious is that during the day, things still seem normal enough…but when night falls, the city goes to hell.
While all this is going down, we also have our main character struggling with a couple of serious changes in her personal life. Her parents have just gone through a very messy divorce, with Becket choosing to stay with dad while her mom moved to Boston. Becket’s father however is also the police commissioner, so having to deal with the meltdown of the city means leaving his daughter for most of this book. Thankfully Becket is the independent, capable sort. What’s interesting though, is how far removed she is from your typical “strong female protagonist.” In fact, if we’re talking in terms of willpower or having a backbone, Becket is decidedly the worst kind of pushover. It’s also clear that she doesn’t have the best self-esteem. She doesn’t stand up for herself and she lets others walk all over her a lot, especially when it comes to her so-called best friend Piper, who often talks Becket into things she doesn’t want to do.
That said, I suspect that this is all a set-up for Becket’s personal growth for the rest of this series, and we’ll probably see her gradually gaining confidence and becoming more assertive. Piper is a very complicated character as well, with many redeeming personality traits, making it easier to see why Becket would value their friendship. I thought that their relationship was established really well in this book, and it made for interesting (and traumatic) dynamics between the two girls when Piper becomes Nightstruck, and Becket has to deal with the horror of watching her best friend become a monster.
I also enjoyed the pacing of the novel. The chaos that descends upon the city is not an explosion that happens overnight, but rather a steady but devastating erosion of everything normal in the world. I loved the atmosphere of rising dread, which was sometimes punctuated by moments that were downright creepy, and there were even a few really terrible and heartbreaking scenes for our protagonist that I found emotionally hard to read.
I only had a couple main issues, which were largely inconsequential considering how much I enjoyed the book overall. The first is the romance: it’s REALLY annoying. Since forever, Becket has had a secret crush on neighbor boy Luke, but she’s always been too timid to say anything. The resulting dance of mixed signals was almost more than I could take, but the only reason I tolerated it was because this kind of behavior actually made sense with Becket’s personality profile. My other issue is the city quarantine. Once it was determined that people weren’t sick and that there wasn’t anything in the environment that could have caused all the nighttime mayhem, wouldn’t a mass evacuation during daylight hours technically make a ton more sense? But then, I suppose that bit of logic had to be swept under the rug in favor of having an actual story.
Also, major cliffhanger alert! But I admit it, I. Am. Hooked. Nightstruck did what it set out to do, and I’m really looking forward to what’s coming next!