"Shy Grove: A Ghost Story" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by CLB Publications
Written by Scott A. Johnson
2018, 278 pages, Fiction
Released on March 8th, 2018
Shy Grove: A Ghost Story opens with Gary, his wife Angela, and their fourteen-year-old son Zac heading for the remote Texas town of Shy Grove to inspect the house they have inherited from his late Aunt Ester. Zac is none too pleased to be separated from his friends, or the joys of the internet and social media for the summer, but Gary reckons a break away from their home in San Antonio will do his family good. Upon arrival they are unsure what to do with the house, it’s in such an isolated location will prove tough to sell, so they decide to fix it up and identify any of the ancient property worth sending to auction.
The forever grumpy teenager soon perks up when he discovers a beat-up 1951 Chevy truck in the garage and to keep him smiling, Gary allows the boy to try and fix it up. The family quickly realises that the few shops that are open for business in Shy Grove are not exactly friendly and the suspicious locals will not tell them anything about the late (and possibly crazy) Aunt Ester, who rarely left her house. We also find out early on that the house is built very close to the location of an old church which burned down years earlier.
Not long after moving into the house, the family begins to hear noises and feel uncomfortable, this seems to affect Zac most severely, who disliked the house from the beginning. However, soon the house has a weird influence over Gary and his personality slowly begins to change, acting out of character. From then onwards we head into familiar haunted house territory.
Although Shy Grove is an entertaining enough novel, it features little to lift it above average in a very crowded ‘haunted house’ genre. When Gary, normally a mild mannered Middle School English teacher, starts to spout Bible verses, it is not difficult for the reader to guess exactly where the story is heading. There is little in the way of story shrouding or unexpected twists and it is ultimately a very predictable tale.
The novel is seen from the point of view of all three family members, none of which are particularly appealing characters or developed with backstories. The teenage son Zac says “whatever” so many times it becomes annoying and this fourteen-year-old boy is, so cliché ridden, it is untrue. However, when he starts having a bit of a thing with local girl Cindy, it perks up slightly and his character becomes more likeable. Also, on the plus side, when the house begins to insert, influence there are some good scenes between Gary and Angela as their marriage begins to fracture. In the end though, this is a ghost story which lacks both tension and genuine scares.
I quickly tired of being told the house is “creepy”, and the overuse of the word “thump” to signify something ‘creepy’ is going on is repetitive. This is not scary in the slightest and does nothing to develop atmosphere or build tension. The best haunted house stories do not tell the reader creepy things are afoot, the reader feels that mood soaking out of the page through the words. Shy Grove fails to reach such heights by some distance.
Having said that, the novel does feature some strong scenes, many of the best are played out through the boy’s eyes as he powerlessly watches his father slowly disintegrate. The sleepwalking scenes are great, and Zac who is used to ignoring his father with his non-committal “whatever” responses is quickly dragged into a nightmare. This leads to a fast-paced climax where the family must fight to the death for survival.
If you are looking for an undemanding and very easy-to-read ghost story featuring a family forced to the brink of madness, then Shy Grove: A Ghost Story may well be a novel worth trying. However, if you’re looking for a read which is more layered, subtle and provides genuine twists, chills, or to scare the crap out of you, then Shy Grove comes up short.
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