"Five Midnights" Book Review

Written by Gabino Iglesias

Published by Tor Teen

five midnights ann davila cardinal poster large

Written by Ann Dávila Cardinal
2019, 288 pages, Fiction
Released on June 4th, 2019


Take everything you think you know about the themes and levels of darkness and brutality you can find in a YA novel. Okay, now throw all of it away. We’re going to talk about Ann Dávila Cardinal’s Five Midnights, and whatever you think you know about YA horror doesn’t apply here.

Lupe Dávila loves visiting her family in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, this last trip is a bit different. While she eats and reconnects with her family, a series of grisly murders targeting youngsters are keeping her uncle, a policeman, busy and on edge. Lupe wants to get to the bottom of it despite her uncle’s warning to stay away. Her efforts bring her closer to Javier Utierre, a young man with a troubled past who has a deep connection to the murders he doesn’t quite understand. Together, Lupe and Javier will do everything in their power to solve the murders and keep Javier alive, but they will soon learn they are dealing with something supernatural, and they have no idea how to stop it.

Five Midnights is a story about friendship, young love, overcoming rough childhoods, and beating addiction, all wrapped in a narrative that has a monster dragging people to their death under the cover of night. It’s also a tale that has a superb sense of place and that shines a light into the experiences of those who are caught in the interstitial space between cultures. Lupe has Puerto Rican blood, but her lack of native speaker language skills in Spanish and her white skin make her a gringa when she’s on the island despite her family and ties to the culture. This smart commentary is something Dávila Cardinal does time and time again through the narrative, and it’s something much needed in cotemporary young adult fiction because multiculturalism, code switching, and constant cultural shifts are the reality for many people from a plethora of countries who travel in and out of the United States regularly because they have some or most of their family somewhere else.

While multiculturalism and acceptance are two of the underlying elements of the story, there is also a strong sense of history that often appears in the novel when the author discusses some of the changes that have lead to Puerto Rico’s current state:

Javier turned the corner at the old Sanchez house with its overgrown front lawn and crumbling graffiti-covered walls. Back in the day it had looked nice, like someone cared. All the houses did. Until the neighborhood started to change. The island’s economy tanked, middle-class families took off for the States, abandoning their homes, and the drug dealers spread out from El Norte and moved in to the better neighborhoods to fill the void.

The aforementioned elements might make Five Midnights seem like a preachy novel that’s too smart for its own good, but the opposite is true. While important, the things I’ve mentioned are only elements of a tale that is mostly about creeping death and a monster that seems to be unbeatable and that pulls youngsters to their death in brutal ways. In other words, this is an exciting, fun horror read where the clock is always ticking and not getting the right answers in time means someone is surely going to die a horrible death.

In the introduction I told you to do away with everything you think you know about YA horror. The reason for that is the depth of some of Dávila Cardinal’s topics. She doesn’t shy away from tough subjects, and Five Midnights includes some brave, honest discussions about drug use, family, abandonment, and even religion. When you add to that a stabbing, drug dealing, guns, and the monster, the end result is a novel that is a few bad words and a some buckets of blood away from being a narrative for adults, and that means adult readers who love smart horror will enjoy it the way they’d enjoy any story that features a supernatural killer pulled from one of the richest mythologies across Hispanic cultures.

Five Midnights is touching and creepy. It’s a tale of family and growing up that also delves into the darkness from our pasts and how it can morph into the monsters of our present. Dávila Cardinal is a great storyteller who knows horror works best when there is plenty of empathy, and she constructed a narrative that allows that feeling to blossom naturally. You need to read this before the fifth night comes, and it’s 11:00pm on the fourth night…


Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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