Morrow. Oct. 2021. 416p. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9780063079915.
A haunting horror story dealing with issues of race, homophobia, and sexism. Something horrible happened one night in 1997 at a “full contact” haunted house in Nebraska, but it takes the length of the book to ascertain exactly what transpired and, more important, why. Teenage horror fan Kendra is thrilled to get a job at Quigley House, the only interesting part of her new life in Nebraska. If a group of participants can make it through Quigley House without screaming “Reprieve” (the safe word that halts everything), they win a cash prize. This job leads to her beloved older cousin Bryan joining a four-person team intent on winning the haunt. Bryan is focused on winning the $15,000 prize; Jaidee wants to impress his longtime crush, Victor; and Victor wants to impress his fiancée. The backstories of the four doomed contestants intersect with those of John, the calculating owner of the house, and the easily manipulated Leonard. The team’s success at each stage of the haunt is punctuated by after-the-fact depositions revealing that something awful happened in the final stage of their quest. The racism experienced by Black characters Kendra and Bryan, and the racism both experienced by and perpetuated by Jaidee, ratchets up the sense of dread. Sexual scenes, including scenes of sex tourism in Thailand, may be triggering though they are not gratuitously written.
VERDICT An intense, clever, and thought-provoking horror tragedy. Narration by the younger characters is likely to appeal to older teens, who may also be drawn to the Stephen King–like haunted house setting.

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