I received this book for free from the Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Haven, Kansas by Alethea Kontis
Published by Author on October 22 2016
Genres: Young adult, Horror
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The nitty-gritty: Heart-pounding horror meets a touching story about friendship and family bonds.
It’s an odd thing that I start 2017 off by reading three very similar books in a row (and those reviews will all be up in the next week or so). It wasn’t planned, it just shook out that way. If you’ve read my January What’s On My Plate post you’ll see an amazing similarity among these three covers. I love serendipitous things like this, and I loved all three books, but in different ways. With Haven, Kansas, I was approached by the author, who is traditionally published but for whatever reason had decided to self-publish this book. Usually I’m leery about self-published books, and rarely do I read them. But I’m so glad I said “yes” to Alethea. This book was incredibly well written and paced, and the characters grabbed my heart and didn’t let go.
Kontis starts her story with a bang: A teen named Erin has just run away from a boy that she agreed to meet in the corn fields, some inexplicable force urging her to run. Erin immediately realizes that her body has been taken over by a lost spirit, and the only way to free herself from its control is to commit suicide.
After this shocking beginning, we meet Erin’s best friend Lora, who is annoyed that Erin stood her up the night before for a boy. But her annoyance soon turns to horror when she hears of Erin’s death. In a fit of despair, Lora kicks a hole in the wall of her bedroom and uncovers—by accident—a hidden room no bigger than a closet. Inside the room is an old trunk full of books, historical tomes that describe the town’s odd history and its connection to an old legend about the Witch of Fallow Field, a young girl who was sacrificed long ago in order to assure a successful year of harvest. She also uncovers an even older leather-bound book with the name “Stazia” engraved on the cover. Lora is drawn to this book and senses something powerful surrounding it. Who is Stazia? And what does the book have to do with Erin’s death?
As Lora sets out to find the answers, strange things start happening to her and her friends and family. A string of mysterious deaths is setting everyone on edge, and Lora knows it’s up to her to solve the mystery and set the angry spirit free, before it’s too late.
I can’t tell you too much about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil this twisty and very scary story. Kontis did a great job of setting up a spooky mystery that revolves around witches and ghosts. Once the secret room is discovered, it’s as if Lora has set free the spirits who were trapped there, as the family soon begins to notice weird smells and hears strange voices. One of the scariest parts of the story involves a trick that Conner tries to play on his sister—he creates a scarecrow with her clothes and even makes the face look like Lora. Unfortunately, the prank backfires in the worst way possible, so thanks for those nightmares, Alethea!
I thought all the characters were really well done. I loved the friendship between Erin and Lora, and even though we technically don’t spend any time with them in the same room, their friendship shines through in the way Lora grieves and clings to the special bond they shared. Kontis dedicates her story to her best friend, and reading this long introduction, I knew that she was going to feature a “best friend” relationship in the book. I wasn’t disappointed.
And yes, this is young adult, so it didn’t surprise me that a romance sprang up between Lora and old friend Ryan. In typical teen angst fashion, Kontis creates a back story where Lora and Erin were both crazy about Ryan, but thankfully in this story, we don’t have to deal with that love triangle.
My favorite character was probably Conner, Lora’s younger brother (and I’m still not sure of his age. He seems like maybe 14 or 15?). Conner is a typical boy who hangs out with his geek friends and likes to play tricks on people. But deep down he’s vulnerable and cares about his family and would do anything for them.
Kontis added a couple of cool references to other stories in her book. I really appreciated the Buffy reference (!), and there’s even a scene straight of out Hitchcock’s The Birds that had me smiling (or grimacing, actually! It was pretty frightening…)
One of the biggest surprises of this story was how Kontis incorporated the parents of Lora, Conner and Luke into the plot. It isn’t uncommon for teens in many YA stories to exist outside of any adult influence, and so it was fantastic to find that these three kids relied on and even asked their parents for help, when things got too hairy for them to handle on their own. In fact, when Lora bashes in the wall in her bedroom and discovers the secret room, her parents are the first to find out, and Lora doesn’t even attempt to hide what she did. Lora’s mom is a history buff, and so she was all over the historical books and documents found in the trunk. And near the end, during the expected showdown with the evil spirits, the parents are right there with them, helping and protecting their children—as any true parent (in real life) would do.
A wonderfully touching and goose bump-inducing scene near the end (which I cannot reveal!) made the story a little extra special, and simply added to my overall enjoyment of the book. Haven, Kansas has it all: nail-biting horror, a little romance, family ties, life-long friendships, and lots of emotion. In the end, Kontis’s story isn’t just a horror story, but a tale about dealing with loss and celebrating friendship. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Big thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.