Review: The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson
by Jeremy Robert Johnson
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Horror
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Stranger Things meets World War Z in this heart-racing conspiracy thriller as a lonely young woman teams up with a group of fellow outcasts to survive the night in a town overcome by a science experiment gone wrong.
Turner Falls is a small tourist town nestled in the hills of western Oregon, the kind of town you escape to for a vacation. When an inexplicable outbreak rapidly develops, this idyllic town becomes the epicenter of an epidemic of violence as the teenaged children of several executives from the local biotech firm become ill and aggressively murderous. Suddenly the town is on edge, and Lucy and her friends must do everything it takes just to fight through the night.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »parental neglect (in the past, described on page), alcoholism (in the past), racism, drug use, deadly car accident causing parents’ death (in the past, described), car accident (on-page), bullying, extremely graphic violence, sexual assault (off-page but described), body horror « Hide Spoiler
It’s almost October, which means it’s time for me to binge horror books and get completely scared out of my mind. This was a great first book for that, extremely gory and deliciously horrifying. I’m just going to stop and reiterate that you should definitely check the content warnings on this one as it is very violent and occasionally crude – like, someone getting beaten with a wrench is the low end of the scale for this book. If that’s something you can deal with, then buckle up, you’re in for a terrifying ride.
This book happens over the course of a few days – mainly over one night – in the idyllic Pacific Northwest town of Turner Falls. Lucy, who’s Latina, and Bucket, who’s Pakistani, are the only minority kids in the school. They’re the outcast kids that all the rich white kids, whose parents work at the big biotech company, look down on and bully. It’s the sort of place where nothing much happens – at least until a brutal attack during school leaves the town reeling. Shaken but smothered by her parents’ concern, Lucy decides to go to an end of the school year party at the local teen hangout in the caves along with Bucket and Brewer, a boy from the wrong side of town who has a crush on her. When the teens inexplicably start attacking each other, suddenly Lucy, Bucket and Brewer are on the run, hiding from the murderous kids and banding up with other survivors.
“The moment each new threat arrived, there was a rush of blood through her body, and her muscles felt strong and tight again, and she wanted nothing so much as to crush whatever had tried to harm her. She felt it like fate, magnetic, pulling her toward conflict.
This has always been inside of me, but I never let it out.
I was a ghost instead. For too long.”
Lucy’s a strong and fascinating protagonist. Beyond the plot and everything else, Lucy’s character is really what sold me on this book. Even prior to the events of the book, Lucy’s been through a lot – she was adopted from Peru and had a traumatic childhood. Though her adoptive parents love her and have tried to do their best for her, she still feels like she’s had to suppress her feelings and basically become a ghost, drifting through her life and trying to avoid attracting attention from the kids who bully her. What she doesn’t know, and what she realizes over the course of the book, is just how strong she is. Her friends Bucket and Brewer were also well drawn, but let’s be honest, the reason I really liked them was how amazing they were at supporting Lucy.
“Acknowledging what she might be losing could crush her, and thinking about what she’d done—about how right it had felt to destroy, and how good it had felt to finally have a way to exert control—might paralyze her. But death was surely headed her way, and life, whatever that meant now, could only happen somewhere far from here.
The present became everything, and action overrode thought, and that was how it had to be.”
The book starts slowly as we’re introduced to Lucy and her life in Turner Falls, but once the action starts it hits hard and doesn’t stop. The majority of the book occurs over the course of the night and day after the party, and it’s all tightly plotted. While at times I felt like the author was blatantly shoving the book’s themes into my face, I deeply enjoyed them, so it didn’t detract much from my reading experience. There’s the surface ones: the hubris of a biotech company who cares more about greed than teenager’s lives, and the Lord of the Flies mentality of high school, with the majority of kids just following along with the biggest bully. But my favorite theme was that of personal agency and how a person responds to trauma – about choosing to be either a victim or a survivor. It’s the decision to stop running and take circumstances into her own hands that made me love Lucy so much.
“They pitched it as innocuous. Beneficial, even. There was going to be a lockdown feature.”
“To stop violence before it even happened.”
“Yeah, well . . . nailed it,” said Judah.
Overall, if you can stomach the extreme violence, this is a highly rewarding and tightly plotted horror thriller. I will definitely be looking up the author’s other books!