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Book Review: Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Some children are born to monsters, and 19-year-old Ryan Burke is one of those boys.  He grew up on a farm under the thumb of a monster wearing the mask of a man, a man that he called father.  As his father’s violence grew, Ryan shrank.  Until one morning, his father tells him his mother is sick and he should not bother her in any way.  Ryan knows that something beyond a beating from a baseball bat has taken place, and he looks.  In this single event, life forever changes and his family decides to run.  Ryan runs for 36 hours and in many ways, he is never the same again.

Fastforward to the present time: The monster wearing a man’s face sits in jail, the farm has stopped producing anything of value, and the remaining family are waiting to move any day now and start a new life.  Ryan’s sister looks up to the sky waiting for a coming meteorite shower, but that is not the only storm that is coming.  The night the meteorite falls will change everything forever, and once again Ryan and his family will find themselves trying to run from unspeakable terror.

Daniel Kraus is the author of Rotters, a book that still haunts me to this day.  I was anxiously looking forward to this new release.  From the title to the premise, I have been intrigued.  While reading Scowler, I live tweeted my thoughts.  You can read the Tweet review, or jump below to the longer, traditional review. Scowler by Daniel Kraus will be published in March of 2013 by Delacorte Press. ISBN: 978-0-385-74309-9. This review refers to an advanced readers copy.

A Tweet Review

I Live Tweeted my reading of Scowling under the hashtag #readingSCOWLER, and some of the Tweets can be found below.

The Long Form Review
Scowler by Daniel Kraus is a novel of terror in the very truest sense of the word, but in focusing on the very real terror of domestic violence as opposed to the supernatural, Kraus reminds us that people are often the most dangerous monsters of all – and he does so with a ferocity that will not soon leave you.  The story will repulse and terrify you, but what will haunt you even more is the knowledge that people are living this story in real life.  And like I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, there is some good discussion to be had around the concept of nature vs. nurture: if you are born to a monster, do you have any chance of not becoming a monster yourself?  In fact, Kraus is no stranger to creating characters that step close to the brink of being monsters – see Rotters for a prime example – and it is definitely an accomplishment to get readers to root for the redemption of characters that seem so close to being irredeemable.

Kraus also does desolation incredibly well. The parched land and creeping poverty are so richly described, you feel the now barren soil being slowly blown away beneath your feet as you read.  The father is a richly drawn, golden fork tongue of a man that we can all relate to; the type of man that just shimmers with a layer of oily evil on the skin that we think we sometimes catch glimpses of but fools the rest of the world.  His very large and powerful presence looms over the family even when he sits in prison.

What really works pheonomenally well is the claustrophobic terror that Kraus creates by telling his story in such a narrow time stamp and by having such a small cast of nuanced characters.  The story is told by counting down to the meteorite crash and then counting the time after the meteorite crash, and it all takes place within the space of a few days.  By keeping the microscopic focus on this dysfunctional family of four, the terror is inescapable, there are no moments to catch a breath and at times, there is little reason to hope for the best.  It evoked for me that slow, creeping feeling that you get when reading (or watching) The Shining by Stephen King.

If I had any moments of hesitation in recommending Scowler, it would be due to the superfluous use of really big words (I even had to bust out the dictionary and look a couple of them up), that in some ways didn’t really make sense to the story.  Our main characters are a family of failing farmers, the main character himself professes to be mostly a C- student, and yet the SAT word count is really high and sometimes distracting, especially when you consider some of the most beautiful sentences that Kraus writes are beautiful because of their very simplicity of emotion and terror.  I am a huge advocate for teens and hate it when people undersell them, but even I worried as I read Scowler that the language would make the story inaccessible to far more teens than not. 

Scowler is a tight, claustrophobic thriller that will terrorize you – and I mean that in good ways.  It contains one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever read in a book.  It will remind you of the terror and menace of Edgar Allan Poe and classic Robert Cormier, as well as contemporaries like Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King.  If you are looking for a novel that oozes a black, inky terror, you have come to the right place. 4 out of 5 stars.


  1. I have heard very good things about Rotters and this sounds like an intense book, as well.

  2. I loved Rotters. And the comparison to Cormier makes me want to read this all the more.

  3. I want to read this one SO bad!

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  5. Kate, it is really intense – in all the best ways.

  6. Amy, I would love to know what you think after you read it.

  7. I can probably help make that happen. 🙂

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