I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Last Harvest by Kim Liggett
Published by Tor Books on January 10 2017
Genres: Young adult, Horror
Format: Finished hardcover
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The nitty-gritty: The devil, teens and wheat fields collide in Liggett’s latest terrifying story.
Once again, Kim Liggett tackles the irresistible combination of teenagers and horror. In her debut Blood and Salt, she set her story in the corn fields. This time the story revolves around wheat fields (OK Kim what’s up with the crop stories??) and involves an age-old evil that is infiltrating a small Oklahoma town. While I enjoyed Kim’s first book, I can definitely see that she’s grown as a writer, because The Last Harvest was much more focused and had an understandable plot that seriously creeped me out. The story involves devil worship and sacrifice, and it’s filled with unreliable characters and plot twists that made it nearly impossible to predict where it was headed. This was a fairly quick book that had me reading late into the night—and then regretting that when I couldn’t fall asleep because it was so scary.
Clay Tate’s father died a year ago, in a bizarre and grisly death that took place at the neighbor’s cattle ranch. Clay was there when his dad died, and his last words—“I plead the blood”—are indelibly etched in Clay’s memory. The odd circumstances surrounding his death are still a mystery when the story starts, and on the anniversary of that horrible event, Clay is beginning to see and hear weird and unexplainable things. Clay and his little sister Noodle live with their mother on a wheat farm, and when the story opens, Clay is determined to finish the “last harvest” of wheat before winter strikes. Without their father to provide, Clay is now the sole breadwinner, and the Tate family is going to need every last penny from the harvest.
But just as Clay thinks life might be getting back to normal, strange things start to happen. He sees a slaughtered calf in the wheat fields, which later disappears, and he keeps hearing people mutter the exact last words of his father. He’s been seeing a school counselor since his father died, but even Ms. Granger is starting to act weird. When he tells her about the odd occurrences, she seems to know exactly what’s going on. But instead of telling Clay, she only drops hints that something bad is coming—the devil—and that Clay might be the only one who can help stop the impending evil. As the members of the Preservation Society (an elite group of the six families whose ancestors settled the town) begin to die in apparent suicides, Clay decides to take his place in the group in order to solve the mystery of what’s happening.
Liggett tells her story in first person from Clay’s point of view, and I love that a female writer decided to tackle the voice of a teen male. She does a great job of setting up Clay as a boy older than his years, haunted by the death of his father and forced to care for his sister and mother. And yet, he’s a typical teen as well. He’s got a crush on a girl named Ali and he used to be a star football player on his school’s team. We also get to peek inside his head as Clay starts to experience some pretty weird shit, and we wonder right along with him if he’s actually seeing the horrific things that seem to be happening, or if he’s going crazy like his father did. It makes for a compelling mystery, when the reader doesn’t even know what’s real.
For the most part I enjoyed the characters. The kids who belong to the Preservation Society are suitably creepy and seem to be hiding lots of secrets. Clay immediately notices that many of them have a strange tattoo somewhere on their bodies, which he later finds out is a symbol of the devil. One of more interesting characters was the school counselor, Ms. Granger, who appears to want to help Clay one minute, and then suddenly seems to be keeping secrets from him. I went back and forth with her for most of the story, not really sure what to believe. Liggett provides a romantic interest for Clay, a seemingly normal element to add to a teen-centric story, but even that relationship had lots of surprises and veered off in a direction I wasn’t expecting.
Word of warning, if you’re the squeamish sort, this book might be a little too much for you. While I wouldn’t call this “slasher fiction,” the author has quite the imagination when it comes to killing off her characters. One of the most horrific scenes takes place in the breeding barn, and what makes it unique is that it’s one of those times when Clay isn’t sure that what he’s seeing is even real. Liggett has done a great job of combining psychological and physical horror, and it’s that combination that makes this story so good.
Readers hoping for lots of football action are going to be disappointed, though. The publisher’s blurb describes it as “Friday Night Lights meets Rosemary’s Baby,” but other than the fact that Clay used to be the star quarterback, and one scene near the end where he joins in the big game at the end of the season, the football action is mostly confined to the characters talking about it. The Rosemary’s Baby comparison is apt, however, although the author twists it fit her own story. I would even go so far as to say The Last Harvest has a dash of The Omen as well.
The biggest surprise of The Last Harvest, however, is the completely unexpected direction the author takes her story in the end. I know not every reader is going to like the ending, and while I wasn’t crazy about it, I did love the fact that Liggett took a big risk (and obviously, the publisher took a big risk as well) and added a twist that I did not see coming. While I can’t say much about it, I will tell you that the door appears to be open for a possible sequel, if the author chooses to write one. Or not. Perhaps she just wanted to write a story with an unconventional ending that will undoubtedly shake up her readers.
Fans of supernatural horror will eat this story up, and most readers will be rooting for Clay, who really was a fantastic character.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.