PLOT: 4.5/5 CHARACTERS: 4.5/5 WRITING STYLE: 4/5 CLIMAX: 3.5/5 ENTERTAINMENT: 4.5/5
“I kinda worried about them up there on the hill all alone. Surrounded by lunatics is no place to raise kids.”― Jennifer McMahon, The Children on the Hill
On the lookout for the most popular horror book of last year (2022), I stumbled upon the Goodreads Readers’ Choice list which had all the nominees for best horror. Among the many that found a spot on the coveted list, I was instantly drawn to Jennifer McMahon’s The Children on the Hill, a book that claims to be inspired by Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein.
The story as it goes
It is the year 1978, the well-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Helen Hildreth lives atop a high hill amidst the verdant green forests of Vermont, where she continues to do her exceptional work with the mentally ill. While she is such a phenomenon all over the country, winning accolades and garnering praise for her path-breaking ideas, at home she is just Gran.
Gran, who loves to indulge her grandchildren Vi and Eric; Gran, who teaches them new things every day and makes sure that they are looked after in the best way possible; Gran, who tries very hard to fill in the gaps left by their parents.
Then one day everything changes. Their carefully curated world is shaken.
Gran brings home a child, Iris. A child who is skittish, gaunt, and devoid of any human emotions, a child who does not seem and behave like a normal little girl.
At first, Vi and Eric are quite thrilled at the prospect of this new member. They try their level best to get the new girl out of her shell, trying to get her into their monster club, teaching her everything they know about monsters, riding their bikes together, and spending their moments just living in the moment. But there is something off about Iris. Maybe it’s something to do with where she came from.
Cut to the year 2019 and we meet a famous podcaster and TV figure Lizzy Shelley, who has the whole of America captured by her paranormal escapades. She runs the famous podcast show Monsters Among Us, where she goes off in search of monsters and their legends in remote corners of America. And now, for her latest research, she is back in the hunt.
A girl has gone missing and there have been rumours of monster sightings, and Lizzy knows that there is something bigger here; a piece of the picture that she is missing. But one thing is for sure, her conviction in the world of monsters is dead right because she knows that they exist, and especially so because she knows that her once beloved sister is now one of them.
The Children on the Hill is a mystery-laced horror that will take you to the world of psychiatry and asylums, children and monsters, and the people who create them. It weaves the horrific scientific era (of insane experiments on live humans) together with the adventures, mysteries, and fantasy worlds of children. It effortlessly combines the past and the present, all linked with monstrosities of a level that are difficult to imagine in this world and time.
The characters are worth looking forward to. While the happenings in the year 1978 and thereafter serve as a reminder of your own childhood games and fantasies, events of the year 2019 come with a sense of mystery and dread, compelling you to make sense of the stacked layers of horror and inexplicable terror that the author serves with unbelievable creativity.
The picturesque town, and more so the distant lone hill setting of the treatment facility, shrouded as much in mystery as it is in verdant greenery, creates a chilly atmospheric vibe that is just right for a story like this. The character of Gran is layered too. While the children see a very different version of hers, the reader is almost always kept on her toes by sharing snippets of information suggesting that there is always more than what meets the eye.
“People loved a good creepy story. The need was almost primal: to hear them, have them chill you, then pass them along, embellished with your own details. Fear was a drug, and these stories were a delivery method.”
The other characters too take hold of you, creating fresh points of interest and maintaining the overall theme of the story. What strikes you as really different is the uniqueness of the plot. It is supposed to be inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic work, and yet it maintains its own singularity. To be very honest I have never really read anything like this.
The only part where the book loses points is towards the end, towards the climax. One cannot help but feel disappointed, most likely let down by her own expectations of the end.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of The Children on the Hill using the link below.
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