Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Harper Paperbacks, 2009
Plot Summary: Judas Coyne is a retired rock star with a penchant for the weird, morbid, and occult...preferably combined. That's why when his assistant finds a haunted dead man's suit on an online auction site, Judas jumps on the opportunity to own it. A few days later, a heart-shaped box shows up with the man's suit in it. Not long after Coyne opens the box, a mysterious apparition that goes by the name of Craddock starts haunting him. It seems that the ghost has a vendetta against Judas because of some tragic events that happened to an ex-girlfriend named Georgia. At first, Coyne thinks it is nothing, but when Craddock starts swinging a sharp object back and forth and starts to threaten his loved ones, the aging rock star and his girlfriend Marybeth will have to figure out a way to escape the dead.
Critical Analysis: For a debut novel, Hill's work is impressive. Much of the charm of Heart-Shaped Box comes from the uniqueness of Judas as a protagonist. Since he is already into the macabre and most likely saw and did things few men do back when he was a rock star, Judas makes for a completely different character to follow in a horror story. Instead of cowering or coming up with foolish ideas, he tries to wait the ghost out stubbornly. When that does not work, he reluctantly seeks out his girlfriend's help and they traverse the southern United States in search of answers.
Perhaps it is just because I am a horror fan in general, but I found Heart-Shaped Box to be more of a rock and roll-themed thriller than a full on horror book. Craddock's merciless hunt of Judas and Marybeth and a few scenes involving him are certainly unsettling, but this book is by no means terrifying.
Unfortunately, Heart-Shaped Box shows the inexperience of its author in the form of story pacing. Hill tries but fails to write a narrative in which there is a slow build up of terror, the time when Craddock finally puts Judas and Marybeth in true danger. Instead, a series of dreams and dream-like states put the reader in a kind of a subreality in which it feels that there is no danger at all. The ending is also quite abrupt, with many loose ends left loose. It seemed less like it was a purposeful ending and more like Hill just did not know how to end the story.
Reader's Annotation: Judas Coyne is an aging rock star who just bought a haunted suit. He has no idea what he has just paid for.
Author Information: Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. However, he kept the pen name when he started out and kept that fact a secret and got published nonetheless. His works are often compared to the early works of his father so it seems that good storytelling runs in the blood.
Source: back of the book
Genre: horror, thriller, teen crossover
Curriculum Ties: N/A
Booktalking Ideas: Do you think characters in horror movies and books are just "asking for it" based on their behavior?
Name some rock stars or musical artists that might have inspired Judas Coyne.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 17 to adult
Challenge Issues: sex, minor drug use, scary images
Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.
Why I included this title: As I said in the review, I found Judas to be a refreshing protagonist for a horror story and that essentially carries the book. It was an interesting and clever take on a traditional ghost story plot. Finally, was a fast-paced book that was not too difficult to read which is why I selected it for a crossover title.