I don’t know if this book will be for everyone, but it was a perfect read for me.
The premise of this YA horror novel is that two friends get lost in an ever-shifting corn maze, and then they find their own dead bodies in the maze and have to figure out how to avoid the same fate. I love a horror premise like this: we’re thrown into a messed up supernatural situation and have to figure out what’s going on and how to escape without turning on each other. But typically, in a horror book, it takes a while to get there. Not so here! On page one, they’re in the maze. By page nine, they’ve found the body.
Sadie is fat, bisexual, and has ADHD and anxiety. We’re very much inside her head: she ruminates constantly about what the right thing to do or say is. Logan is also bisexual and has ADHD, and they’re both close, but they’ve only been friends for about a year, and she’s worried about driving him away or having him judge her. It doesn’t help that she was recently in an abusive relationship and lost her friendships during it. So she doesn’t let him in—knowing that doing that also pushes him away.
The voice in this novel is so strong: it really does feel like being inside the head of someone with ADHD and anxiety. Often, Sadie struggles to know how to respond to people and imagines a video game-style dialogue tree of what to say next. She is constantly referencing (out loud or just internally) memes and pop culture. The reason I think this might not be for everyone is that all these references seemed pretty millennial to me (“heckin’ windy”, Pirates of the Caribbean, Supernatural, etc), but since I’m a millennial, they were spot on for me. I’m just not sure teens today would relate.
As for the plot, as I mentioned, I loved that we got dropped immediately into the maze. It’s also not one of those in medias res beginnings were we immediately jump back in time and spend five chapters building up to that point; the majority of the book is set in the maze. I wasn’t sure if that would get old, especially since this is nearly 400 pages, but I never got tired of it. The mystery unravels steadily throughout, and the tension keeps building.
It feels weird to call a horror novel heartfelt, but that is what I was left with. I love books with queer friendships, and I appreciated Logan and Sadie reaching out for each other even when it was difficult. Despite being fairly new friend, they clearly care about each other deeply. Also, despite the time loop murders, the supernatural corn maze, and all the other horror elements, this is fundamentally a story about trying to find your self worth after abuse and trauma. And a good part of that happens in community. Major spoiler, highlight to read: I especially enjoyed that they ended up befriending their murderer. The power of friendship! End of spoilers.
I can’t set aside that part of why I loved this book is that I felt Seen. I’m also a fat bisexual with anxiety (who has also been putting off getting assessed for ADHD). I’ve been in an abusive relationship as a young person and had to rebuild my self worth. I could definitely relate to Sadie, especially since I recognized all the references she made. So it’s hard for me to have any objectivity about this story.
Even if you don’t deeply relate to Sadie, though, I think you’ll really enjoy What Stalks Among Us. Despite this not being particularly short, I read it in one day—almost in one sitting. I was completely absorbed in the story, charmed by the characters and their relationships, and invested in figuring out what was happening in this maze. The answer/ending was satisfying, and matched the bigger themes of the story. If you’re looking for a horror book you can marathon read on Halloween, you need to pick this one up.