Penpal <— THIS ONE IS TOUTED AS ONE OF THE SCARIEST BOOKS (at least per the scary-book lists online right now), and OMG look at all the awesome reviews. HOLY MOLY. And you know me, I’m all for finding that next super-scary, sleep-with-the-lights-on book… especially right now, on the cusp of Halloween. YES. PLEASE!!!! 😲😬
So I one-clicked it, and saved it for a scary-craving moment and now… I devoured it. Oh and… I went in completely blind, other than that creepy title, and the fact that it was making so many “scary must reads” lists.
In length, it’s a quick read, and the fact that I was on the edge of my seat for a highly anticipated “freak out” moment, made it that much more exciting, so therefore… an even quicker read.
So what’s it about?
As a child in kindergarten, the narrator, as part of a class project, sends out a balloon into the sky with a note attached… requesting a penpal from whomever finds it.
And then he gets one. And so it starts.
…sometimes you realize that the memories were always there – you just needed to be reminded.
When this happens, it offers a previously lacked context for memories that, while never missing, were never understood. This is a special kind of gift. Our lives are so short that it seems a crime to squander any of it by forgetting. Memories extend our lives backward through time, making them feel longer. And that’s what we want. So we try to remember. But sometimes, when we do, we wish that we could just forget again.
But I remember.
I’m stopping there. 😉 The official book synopsis says way less (and has an even creepier feel), so I hope what I’ve said is enough to give you an idea of what you’re getting into.
My consensus? It has its creepy moments (I’d say 3 times, I was on the edge of my seat, and creeped right out). But out-right scary? Well… not for me, anyway. It does have a conclusion, so the mystery is… solved, but there were plenty of “plot holes” (or so I thought) that left me wondering… but what about this? But what about that? And why did THAT thing happen? And why did we never hear any more about THIS thing that was so creepy? It fell sort of flat. I was annoyed.
So I went on a 2 hour research online, looking up every reader theory, and all the of “spoiler” discussions I could find, and now, yes, it all makes sense. Though through the narrators eyes, not knowing all the details himself, would explain why so much detail was missing because we were solely experiencing all of this through his childhood eyes, and his now adult eyes. But once everyone got together and put it all in perspective and on a more normalized timeline I was all… Ahhhhhhhh okay. *phew* NOW I get it. So don’t fret if you decide to go into this, and feel lost at the end, the answers are out there. 🙂
Oh except for one “thing/tale” that happened at a mall involving a security guard. I’ve still got questions, and I won’t say anymore about that.
Overall, I enjoyed the writing for the most part. In regards to personal introspection by the narrator, it’s eloquent and very thoughtful. Deep. I highlighted so much of that. It definitely has that eerie ambiance the whole way through, and characters that leave you wondering, and thinking. The depiction of the kids when they were in kindergarten left me confused as they acted more like preteens (intelligence and planning and otherwise). These were not the thought processes of 5 year olds, that’s for sure, but I shrugged it off and just went with it.
Do I recommend it? If you’re looking to be truly scared and even terrorized, this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me. But I was invested enough to continue searching details even after I finished the book, so I know it will definitely stay with me. But if you’re easily scared and like a creepy mystery, then this one might be for you!
Fun fact about the book (from Wikipedia) – it’s essentially an online cult classic because it was piecemealed out, on a forum as the author wrote it in real time (kind of like our favorite fan-fictions and Wattpad reads). Readers were HOOKED!
The story line for Penpal is based on a series of stories that Auerbach posted to the subreddit “No Sleep” under the username 1000Vultures.Auerbach posted the first story, “Footsteps”, to r/nosleep in March 2010, where it received a large positive response. He had initially meant for “Footsteps” to be a standalone story, but Auerbach chose to continue writing more stories following the same protagonist due to reader demand.Each story was narrated by the same protagonist and each one opened with the same format, where the protagonist responded to a question posted by one of the readers. During this time Auerbach also responded to user posts while in character as the protagonist. Auerbach continued to post more stories and eventually chose to expand the Reddit stories into a full length novel.
3.5 stars! <— 4 stars for keeping me reading and invested! 3 stars for the lack of scary that I was so anticipating. This is more of a psych-thriller, and the fact that I had to research all of the “plot holes” to try and make sense of it all, after the book was finished, made it not as clever to me, as some of my favorite psych-thrillers.
Though if you read all of the 4 and 5 star reviews out there about this one, it definitely scared many! 😉 Maybe even you.