Review #38: The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff
From Wikipedia, “The Harrowing is a horror novel by Alexandra Sokoloff. It was first published in 2006 by St. Martin’s Press, and is the author’s debut book, following a screenwriting career.” I must say that this little blurb is not remotely surprising, as I kept thinking that the book seemed more like a movie than like a book. I really enjoyed the previous Alexandra Sokoloff book that I read and reviewed this had such great reviews on Amazon that I figured it would be another out of the ballpark hit for me. Well, I must say that Sokoloff has really stretched herself and improved as an author since this debut.
The Harrowing (I really like the name) is a ghost story set in a co-ed college dorm on a grand Gothic-style campus. Five students come together over the Thanksgiving weekend, the only ones to not go home. Robin Stone is the anchor of this story; she is sad, lonely, and briefly suicidal until she meets the other four who decided to stay. Each of the five have a reason for not staying, mostly because of their miserable family lives, and after drinking and getting high in the lounge they decide to play with a found Ouija Board. A spirit named Zachery communicates with them, and quickly creepy things start to happen to the group even after Thanksgiving is over and all the other students return. The group must figure out what type of supernatural force is at work, what it wants, and how to stop it before it kills them all.
I am not certain if this story is meant to be a young adult novel, but it certainly seemed to be designed to appeal to a younger audience. The characters are somewhat stereotypical (jock, nerd, brooding boy, slut, depressed girl), and the glimpses we get at deepening them are variable. The setting is also a bit stereotypical, and some of the dialogue a bit rote. I did enjoy the twist of the character who opened up to the spirit the most, as this is the person we would expect to lead the fight against it. I thought the use of Kabbalah and pulling from the Jewish faith was fairly inspired as many stories of good vs. evil tend to be told from the point of view of the Christian (specifically Catholic) faith. This offered a unique perspective on an ancient archetype and definitely helped grab my interest at a point when it was waning a bit. Some of the imagery is quite powerful, especially as the spirit enters the human world. I think it was a bit of a shame that by the time the story really found its legs and broke away from sterotypes, it hit the climax and ended.
This is a bit nitpicky, but there were also some errors in the story that pulled me out of it. For example, on my Kindle the spelling of “Luis Vuitton” was incredibly distracting. Also, I believe the college is in the U.S., yet mid-terms happened after Thanksgiving when the return from that holiday usually signals the move towards finals. At one point the police are looking for the characters, yet never try to reach them on the cell phone they have. The constant use of the phrase, “the Net,” was also quite distracting since it is a bit old-timey.
I wish that I loved this book more as I have had some truly lovely interaction with Alexandra Sokoloff since I published the review for Book of Shadows. She sent me an e-book (Huntress Moon) and a hard cover (The Price), both of which I am dying to read. I am happy to say that this was a debut, and she was switching a very different style of writing than she had previously been doing (screen-writing), so I am sure there was a huge learning curve to translate ideas and concepts into novel-form. Either way, I still enjoy Sokoloff’s focus on the supernatural and experimenting with it in different ways, and I am excited to read the two books she sent me.