Thursday, October 18, 2018

Haunted Halloween Spooktacular: Flesh Review

Genre: YA Horror/Paranormal/Fantasy
The dead are easy to talk to. Live people, not so much.

Charlie Sulliven thinks she knows all the secrets of the dead. Raised in a funeral home, she’s the reluctant “Ghoul Girl,” her reputation tied to a disastrous Halloween party. But navigating her life as a high school sophomore is an anxiety-inducing puzzle to her. She haunts the funeral home with her parents, emo older brother, Garth, their pistol-packing Gramma, and the glass-eyeball-devouring dachshund, Lothar.

Chewed human bodies are appearing in her parents’ morgue…and disappearing in the middle of the night. The bodies seem tied to a local legend, Catfish Bob, who has resurfaced in the muddy Milburn river near Charlie’s small town. When one of Charlie’s classmates, Amanda, awakens in the cooler as a flesh-eating ghoul, Charlie must protect her newfound friend and step up to unravel the mystery…and try to avoid becoming lunch meat for the dead.

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“Amanda, I…Oh.”
I don’t know what else to say. My brain just shuts down.
She is wearing the sheet, wound around her like a toga. It
trails behind her bare feet, sort of like a painting about Greek goddesses I’ve
seen in art books. She’s leaning over another body stored in the cooler unit on
a cart. Her back is to me, and I can only see her pale skin and her
burgundy-black hair shuddering.
“Amanda.”
She turns at the sound of my voice, seeming only to hear me for
the first time. Her face is covered in dark blood. In her hand, she’s holding a
big chunk of purple flesh. Her eyes are half-closed. The autopsy incision on
the elderly body below her has been ripped open, and I’m pretty sure that what
she’s holding is a lung.
“So hungry…” she murmurs.
I retreat until my back presses against the cold door. A
whimper escapes my lips, and I drop the laundry basket with a sharp crack of plastic on the tile floor. This
has to be a dream. A screwed-up anxiety dream that I’ll wake up from any moment
now…
Amanda’s black eyes snap open. She stares at the chunk of
flesh in her hand. “I…Agh…What’s
going on?”
Lothar waddles over to her and begins to beg. Bile rises in
my throat. “That’s Mrs. Canner,” I manage to answer. “She’s seventy-two and
died of surgery complications for varicose veins. Deep vein thrombosis, I
think. I don’t remember.” I’m babbling, trying to keep the bile down.
Amanda drops the lung with a wet splat. Lothar scrambles to it and begins scarfing it down. Her hands
are trembling. She presses them to her temples. “I don’t understand. I don’t
understand.”
I nudge the laundry basket closer to her with my foot. “I
brought you some clothes. And, um. Food. You should get dressed.”
I think I should be afraid. I think I really ought to be.
But Amanda seems genuinely confused. She reaches for the clothes I’ve brought
her. To be polite, I know that I should really look away. But I can’t move. I
am not turning my back on her. My heart pounds, and I struggle to take deep, uneven
breaths.
Amanda unwinds the sheet and slips into my clothes. Though I
avert my eyes, I see that her shoulder and side are still torn open. But my
mother hasn’t begun the autopsy yet, so there is no Y-incision across her chest
and abdomen.
“Do you remember what happened to you?” I manage to ask. I
congratulate myself for having a rational thought. Woot.
Her voice is halting, and her brow wrinkles as she struggles
to button my jeans. “I remember…something was chasing me. Jesus, it hurt…” Her
hand comes up to her neck, and she seems to remember, fingering the edges of
the wound. “Am I in a hospital?” she asks again.
I suck in a breath. “No. You’re at my house.” It’s not a
lie. Not really.
She scans the room, as if registering the sight of the
cadavers. “You’re the girl whose parents run the funeral home. The Ghoul Girl.”
“It’s gonna be okay,” I tell her.
“Why am I here?” Her breath makes ghosts in the cold air.
“The Sheriff found you, alongside the road.” That’s true
also, even if not the whole truth. “I think we should get you upstairs, so you
can talk to my parents…”
She shakes her head, and her dark hair slaps across her
face. “No. I…Oh my god. I’m here because…somebody thought I was dead?”
I swallow hard. “Yeah.”
Her hands press to the wound on her side. “But I’m not
dead!”
“I…uh…I think we need to get you to the hospital.” I
tentatively reach toward her, to grasp her arm and guide her upstairs, toward
the light of the much more civilized parlor and rational discussion. This is so
far over my head, and I need my parents to handle it.
She shakes her head. “No. No. No.”
I hold her elbow gently, trying to keep her calm until I can
get her upstairs to my parents. Her skin radiates cold through the sweatshirt,
and I can see that the edges of her neck wound are dry, not seeping so much as
a hint of blood. “Come with me.” I open the door and gently lead her into the
lab, as if I’m herding a frightened cat. She gazes at the stainless-steel
equipment. “I was here. I remember being here.”
“Come upstairs,” I urge, struggling to keep my composure. I
use all the empathy that I’ve learned, dealing with grieving family members,
trying to understand the shock and lead her away from the Body Shop.
She squints up at the buzzing light. “You were here, weren’t
you? You and that woman. Looking at me.”
“My mother,” I say. I’m thinking crap crap crap. I’ve heard of cases of people whose vitals have
dropped far beyond detection, who have awoken in hospital morgues. This has
never happened to us. Not ever. Oh shit. The other body. Maybe it the same
thing…
“The woman with that knife…” Her fingers go to her sternum,
where my mother’s scalpel had rested. All of a sudden, Amanda becomes rooted in
place, as immovable as a mountain.
“No one’s going to hurt you,” I promise. “Let me make you
some coffee.”
She shakes her head, and I feel her trembling. Her eyes
slide to the back door.
She slips from my grip. Before I can stop her, she rushes to
the back door. She slams it open with a sound like a gunshot and plunges into
the darkness.

My Thoughts:


Ghouls, revenants, zombies, the Undead. All of these have a million stories written about them. Yet I'm constantly amazed by the new angles that authors find to breathe life into old material. Flesh is one of those unique twists. Catfish Bob is an urban legend in the area. Tales of this giant catfish abound but there is no real proof that he exists. When a diary is found at the local museum, they realize exactly how far back the story of Catfish Bob goes.

I'm not exactly sure what Catfish Bob is truly meant to be but for the sake of the story, I don't feel that it's necessary that I fully comprehend it. Tales of giant catfish have played a part in almost every culture. The Japanese believed in an earthquake causing giant catfish called the Namazu. In Thailand, catfish of upwards of 600 pounds have been spotted, and treated with high regard and even given offerings during special rituals before fishing. In the U.S., myths of giant catfish date back to 1880's. Even in my region, I grew up hearing tales of giant catfish at the bottom of man-made Smith Mountain Lake. Do yourself a favor before you start reading and Google a little about catfish, especially the growls they make. I don't know what it is about the mythology of giant catfish that draws us, but I can't argue that the thought of them is a bit alarming.

Back to Flesh...Charlie is a great character for a young adult book. Still trying to find her place, she wants to be popular but doesn't exactly know how to achieve it. She's known as the "Ghoul Girl" so she attempts to capitalize on it by giving the kids at school what the want: a glimpse into the funeral home by throwing a Halloween party while her parents are away. While this did work for a little while, when she can't throw a repeat party, the cool kids quickly lose interest. Over the course of the novel, she realizes that friendship isn't about being popular, it's about being genuine.

Flesh was an effortless read with authentic characters and a solid mythology. The ending was appropriate and answered most, if not all, the questions that the novel raised. I especially enjoyed reading from Charlie's POV and the growth that her character undergoes. All in all, Flesh was a substantial YA read.

About the Author:


Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology-Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs. Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016.



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