Say Her Name was one of two books I read in June for #aryaclub, a young adult book club. We’re all super fans of James Dawson (I’ve previously read Cruel Summer, his YA thriller) so it was an obvious choice, although some of us (not me!) were worried about reading horror. Horror is a under-represented genre in young adult fiction, but that seems to be changing, and James Dawson shows that you can write horror and do it well enough so it to be considered ‘definitely YA’.
Did Say Her Name scare me? No, but then I watched movies like The Exorcist, Scream (all of them!) and The Sixth Sense with my Dad when I was 12-13. (I’m more likely to be scared by horror movies now than I was then!). So, it didn’t scare me, but it was incredibly enjoyable for someone looking forward to reading horror and it was deliciously eerie. One of my favourite horror movies of all time is The Ring and if you enjoyed that, you’ll love Say Her Name. James Dawson brings remnants of The Ring into his story, but with a brilliantly modern twist – a contemporary boarding school setting.
Bobbie and Naya, best friends and roommates, are students at Piper’s Hall School for Young Ladies, an English boarding school. There’s a legend that’s been passed around the school for generations that claims if you say ‘Bloody Mary’ five times in front of a candlelit mirror, ‘Mary’ will come. Bobbie and Naya, alongside fellow teenagers Sadie and Caine (a cute boy who Bobbie wants to impress), dare each other to perform the ritual, so they do it. It’s just a joke, right? But in five days, they find out just what happens when you Say Her Name.
Piper’s Hall, being a boarding school, is the perfect setting for most YA novels if you ask me, but YA horror in particular. It’s enough to peak my interest, but Bloody Mary is a fabulous… ghost zombie? Think The Returned, but much more nightmarish. She’ll make you never want to have a shower ever again. I cannot say much because the best part is not knowing what is going to happen next, but parts of Say Her Name were seriously chilling to think about, and Bloody Mary has a tragic backstory that makes everything seem real. You don’t often get to see the human side of the supernatural in horror, but this makes her even more terrifying. Mary doesn’t just ‘get’ people for the sake of it and I loved getting to know her before she became Bloody Mary, while equally hoping that she would stay away from Bobbie, Naya and Caine, who are realistic teenage characters – they’re afraid and don’t believe they can ‘defeat’ Mary – that you want to keep safe.
Say Her Name is an eerily awesome introduction to YA horror, with a frighteningly believable story and fantastic ending. You’ll want to talk about what you’ve just read, so it was the perfect book club book. I adore the cover, designed by Jet Purdie, and so purchased a finished copy at the Say Her Name book launch last month, where we ate creepy cake and got to see James Dawson dressed up as a Bloody Mary. Don’t be scared – pick it up (but definitely do not say her name).
Published: 5th June 2014
Publisher: Hot Key Books