Title: My Heart is a Chainsaw
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Blurb: Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.
Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.
What worked: The characterization of Jade Daniels is, hands-down, the strongest part of this novel. Even from early on, it’s easy to care about what happens to her, which is an often-underbaked ingredient in the horror genre. Jones dug deep into who Jade is when writing this book and it shows. Even though her choices were sometimes awful and cringey to me as a reader, at least in terms of how her life is probably going to unfold in the long run, this anxiety and cringe-factor works exceptionally well for the story that Jones is telling. It’s also realistic in terms of who Jade is supposed to be. She’s an eighteen-year-old with a lot of internalized anger, who is just graduating from high school in a postage-stamp sized mountain town on the border between Idaho and Wyoming. Speaking of which, the town itself is also well drawn and feels almost like another character. Jones does a great job of capturing the vibe of Indian Lake, which is small, sleepy, seemingly idyllic, rapidly gentrifying, and maybe even a little menacing. This novel is well written, gripping, suspenseful, and is usually much too easy to read. There are some darker real-world themes that some might struggle with, such as abuse, racial tension, displacement of the first people, and trauma, all of which are woven into the narrative expertly by Jones. They deepen Jade’s character without overshadowing the plot.
What didn’t work: This book is suspenseful and it’s a little bit menacing, but it’s not all that scary. If you’re anything like me, you will feel a lot of anxiety for Jade when reading this story, and there are certainly some gory elements at times (especially in the last half of the book – you’ve been warned), but it’s not likely to scare the pants off you. Also, there are some confusing plot twists in the third act, which could have been better explained. This makes the ending feel just a little bit forced, even though it’s still a lot of bloody fun.
Overall impressions: Despite having a few issues with the ending, I loved this book. I wound up reading it all, cover to cover, from start to finish, in one sitting, because I had that hard of a time putting it down.
Who this book is for: Fans of horror movies, especially slasher movies, will probably like this novel. You’ll just need to forgive the fact that, like most slasher flicks, it’s just not all that scary most of the time. Fans of suspense, fiction set in small towns, and fiction containing deep characterization will probably also really enjoy this book as well.
Star rating: 9/10
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