Cade is a shy, horror-movie-obsessed teen living in rural Texas. Surrounded by homophobia, he figures he’ll never be able to come out as gay, let alone find a boyfriend. Anyway, he has other things to worry about. His family is low on money, so his parents insist that Cade get a summer job at a ranch, which pays better than the more comfortable indoor jobs he would prefer. It’s hard labor, but on the plus side he gets to work with Henry, the teenaged son of the ranch owner. Henry is attractive, mysterious, and possibly interested in Cade. But there are rumors swirling around the ranch. People have died. In fact, the whole situation reminds Cade of a horror movie. Will he be the next victim?
This is a retelling of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, in which a young woman allows her love of Gothic novels to color her perception of the real world. Like the heroine of that novel, Cade sees and hears a few strange things and lets his imagination fill in the gaps with terrifying theories. Changing the Gothic novels to horror movies and the setting to a lonely ranch in modern-day Texas makes for a creative update. Cade’s unease and sense of being in danger are supported by encounters with racist and homophobic locals—a situation based on the author’s own experience growing up queer, closeted, and Latine in rural Texas.
Cade comes from a class background that is underrepresented in teen fiction: his blended, multiracial family is struggling financially, living in a rural area where military service and religion play a large part in many people’s lives. This adds to Cade’s isolation, as there is a lot of homophobia in the local culture. Even his generally well-meaning stepdad casually uses homophobic language. Henry, too, has struggled to reconcile his identity with his church’s condemnation of queer people.
A content note at the beginning advises that the book contains “moments of homophobia, misogyny, racism, domestic violence, animal cruelty, and confronting death.” There is a character whose past includes becoming suicidal and spending time in a mental health facility, and another character uses stigmatizing language about it. And although he is seeing a therapist and working on his anger issues, Henry can be violent, which is an alarming quality in a love interest. There are also a handful of swear words, up to and including the f-bomb. Despite all that, though, this story is not grim throughout. It is, after all, a romance, with plenty of sweet moments and—eventually—a hopeful ending.
The art is cute and expressive, with a simplified realistic style reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks. The book is two-color, with shades of red and pink punctuated by bold black and lots of deep shadows, especially in the creepy parts. Horror movie fans may notice a few classic film posters in some of the panels.
This is a creative retelling that stands alone. Sometimes sweet and sometimes gripping, it addresses tough topics but also brings humor and smooches. Hand it to fans of Kevin Panetta’s Bloom and Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper.
By Rey Terciero
Art by Bre Indigo
Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Latine, Queer
Character Representation: Latine, Gay, Ambiguous Mental Illness