The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.
It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.
But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.
But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….
Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.
FERAL falls squarely into the realm of the classic psychological thriller. While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the “psychological” rather than thriller / action. The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain).
Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting. The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and in this instance is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state). The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley. Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche.
Ultimately, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too. The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that frightening process in detail.
Excerpt from FERAL:
This excerpt takes place toward the end of the book; the spirit of our murder victim, Serena, has managed to take shelter inside the body of a feral cat referred to as “Sweet Pea.” But in this scene, Claire confronts Serena in the woods, as Serena makes it clear that she has vicious plans for Claire:
As Claire stared, Serena’s face grew clearer, gained dimension. She shivered when she realized Serena’s head was actually pushing its way out of the cat’s skull. Serena’s spirit was emerging
“The clock is ticking down for me,” Serena explained as she wrenched her face free. “Not much time left for me in this old body.” She had not completely left the old cat yet; her shoulders, her arms were out, but the rest of her figure was still inside.
“Sweet Pea’s life is ending. She’s old—so old. Time’s running out for me again,” she said. “I don’t want to leave—not the world, not like the [spirit-filled] fog wants me to. I want my old life back. I want to be seventeen, and I want to do seventeen-year-old things—I want to write for the paper and laugh with my friend, my best friend. Where is she tonight, huh? Getting ready for a dance. Trying to decide on the perfect hairdo. Hanging her pretty new dress out on the closet door. Like everything is the same as always. And where am I?”
Claire trembled against what Serena had just said, but stood firm, locking her jaws and making fists. “That’s not true,” she tried to protest. “She feels terrible. If you only knew—”
“Terrible! I’m the one in this awful body,” Serena shouted. “This broken-down, nasty body. I don’t want to be in here. I don’t want to be some old cat. I want to be a girl. I want to go to school. I want to live in my old house. I want my best friend. I want my life. But I don’t have my life. You have my life,” she shouted, stretching one arm toward Claire. “You have it,” she repeated.
She moved closer to Claire, yowling and snarling.
Please God, Claire thought, the words echoing inside her head. Don’t let me die…
Serena’s image pressed against Claire’s chest, her spirit so cold it burned. Claire fought against the truth of the moment. But there was no escaping it. This was happening. Serena was trying to get inside her…
Claire screamed as Serena’s fingers slipped through her skin, entering her chest. Seeping through the tiniest fissures in Claire’s broken places, like water through a crack in the glass…
About the Author:
Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”
FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”
Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits. She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found at her website, blog, twitter, facebook, and tumblr accounts.
Thanks to the author, Holly Schindler, for letting me be a part of the FERAL Blog Tour!