YA Weekend Audio: Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: HarperAudio (August 25, 2020)
Length: 8 hrs and 43 mins
Clown in a Cornfield was certainly different from the usual run of YA I’ve been reading—a very good, exhilarating kind of different. But first, readers should be forewarned this one falls squarely in the “slasher horror” category, and that it can get pretty brutal. Because I was a child of the 90s, the closest association I could make with regards to the bloody gorefest I found in this book was to movies like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer, which took my preteen years by storm. Needless to say, I was struck by a keen sense of nostalgia when it hit me the kind of story I was in for, and quite honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun.
As for what the book is about, I’d say it’s pretty self-explanatory. We’ve got creepy cornfields and killer clowns, and of course, a group of dumb teens to be used as murder fodder. The story stars Quinn Maybrook, who has come to the small, sleepy midwestern town of Kettle Springs with her dad to start a new life. It’s very different from the big city where she grew up, but it’s a change Quinn feels they need, after the tragic death of her mom. Little does she know though, Kettle Springs is not as peaceful as it seems. The town is slowly dying, as its major employer, the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory, has recently shut down, taking the town’s economy with it. A group of local high school kids, bored and irreverent, have also taken to harassing the residents of Kettle Springs by livestreaming their silly pranks and other dangerous antics to social media.
With no inkling of any of this, Quinn unwittingly falls into this clique of troublemakers, roped into their inner circle. And just like that, the “new girl” has also painted a target on her back, for a town already stretched to its limits can only take so much. Someone has finally gotten fed up with the problems caused by the raucous teens, deciding to take matters into their own hands. Dressed as Frendo, the Baypen clown mascot with the creepy mask and pork-pie hat, this homicidal maniac starts picking off the kids one by one, with the intent to rid Kettle Springs of their scourge once and for all.
What more can I say, but what you see here is what you get. The story is ridiculous, the premise laughable, and the body count is astronomical, but I’ll bet you already knew all that. For crying out loud, the book is called Clown in a Cornfield, and like I said, the story draws inspiration from the iconic slasher films of the 80s and 90s, though the setting itself has been modernized with the usual accoutrements like cellphones and social media to give it an updated feel. That said, it’s clear author Adam Cesare was going for that classic throwback vibe (I mean, just look at that cover), which without a doubt is the novel’s best and most notable aspect. At the end of the day, everybody knows it’s not really about the characters or the plot; it’s all about the experience, and because of that, the book was able to get away with a certain degree of cheesiness and a crap ton of genre tropes.
I also enjoyed the dynamic of the novel’s conflict. As the story gradually unfolded, it became obvious that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface besides a murderous rampage featuring a killer clown and his hapless victims. The truth, as it turns out, is more complex than that. Kettle Springs is a battleground for another hidden struggle, one between the older generation and the younger one, each trying to gain more influence and power in the culture war. It certainly helped that the adults were no more likeable or unpleasant than the teens, so you actually had reason to root for Quinn and the spoiled, snarky, moronic kids at her school and not cheer when Frendo starts going through them like a meat grinder.
Sigh…okay, to be fair, I guess they weren’t all bad. I liked Quinn, who was competent and smart, our level-headed anchor on this blood-soaked journey. My favorite, however, was Rust, a real salt-of-the-earth character whom I was glad the author didn’t turn into another walking cliché like they do in so many of those “big city girl moves to the backcountry where everyone she meets is a witless yokel” type stories. Heck, maybe even the adults had a tiny bit of depth, despite their motivations being as transparent (and flimsy) as cellophane. The point is though, you’re not really meant to get attached to any of these characters anyway when most of them are doomed to be slaughtered in the middle of a cornfield, so just sit back, break out the popcorn, and enjoy the ride.
I know I had a great time with Clown in a Cornfield, which pretty much met all of my expectations—something I haven’t been able to say for a lot of my reads lately, so that in itself was a refreshing change on top of the heady shot of nostalgia. This book is basically everything you could ever want from a retro-style horror with scenes could have come straight out of a teen slasher flick, just written out on paper. And as long as you understand that’s what you’re signing up for, I think you’ll find this one to be a fun, disturbing, and satisfying read.
Audiobook Comments: Maybe there’s a slight bit of overacting on narrator Jesse Vilinsky’s part, which might have made Quinn sound less capable than she was meant to, but overall I can’t say it affected my listening experience too badly, and I still enjoyed this audiobook very much.