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This was my first true horror genre book and it was a doozy. Before I begin, here is the synopsis from Amazon:
Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard. But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…
Wow. There is a lot to discuss here. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries and there is murder and blood, but it’s more about the twists and turns in those books that really grab you. Before this book, I really didn’t know what horror meant in a genre way except for Stephen King. I’ve read one Stephen King book and it wasn’t really horrific to me so I was still unsure as to what I was getting myself into.
What did I love the most about this book? It left me speechless. Literally speechless. I think I snapped a photo for Instagram stories showing I was done with an OMG on it and then sat there and stared at the cover. The content of this book is disturbing. It is not just about a family who murders girls. That is just the tip of the iceberg with this one. Had it just been about that it would have been a good thriller to see if the family was ever caught. This family never does get caught, though. This is their way of life and someone finding out is not even really the point. The lifestyle itself, the mindset, the completely dysfunctional relationships and the sickness- that is the point of Brother. It’s their norm.
This brings me to another reason why this book shook me so much. I am very much used to the plot twist of domestic thrillers where you gasp and it’s awful and surprising and that’s what made it so amazing; that ONE plot twist. You know those books. Those plot twists are why we read them, or at least why I do. This book was so dark and disturbing and so completely horrific, but written in a tone similar to “can you please pass me the bread?”. It’s not written with an intent of one major shock and then it’s over. It’s a slow build of eerie sickness that oddly starts to seem so normal. I really did have to remind myself that what I was reading was NOT normal, but it felt like it could be real. It made me wonder how often this has actually happened in real life. Has this happened in real life? I’m certain it has happened.
The third reason I loved this book was because I was actually rooting for Michael, the adopted son, who helps his family with these murders. I was ROOTING for him. Who roots for a character that kills? I can’t be alone in with this one if you’ve read it. The character development for Michael was amazing. He is the main voice of Brother, although you do get a glimpse into his brother’s voice (Rebel) when they go back in time to explain why something has happened or what made a relationship the way it was in the present. I really felt Michael’s loyalty to his family, but his desire for a different life. I felt his genuine interest in Alice, the girl in the record shop, but also felt his angst that he could never share who he truly was for fear she would find out about his family. He didn’t love the killing. He knew it wasn’t normal. He knew he couldn’t share this with anyone and was afraid he’d never be normal. I had empathy for all of his emotions. At times I forgot, especially towards the very end, that he wasn’t one of the bad guys. Or was he a bad guy? Was he a victim? That is for you to decide.
The only part I struggled with was the slow build of the plot. I do see that it was intentional and I do think the author was very intentional with her words. I didn’t feel like there were unnecessary chapters or even paragraphs. It was all meant to be there, but it boils down to my impatience. I believe it was chapter 17 when my heart started pounding. In the later chapters I was holding my breath, afraid to go to the laundry room in the dark to switch my son’s clothes to the dryer. It may be that this is what makes a truly good horror book- that slow build. As I move forward with this genre I will get a better feel, but for now I do wish it had really grabbed me a bit earlier.
Overall, this book is one I won’t forget. It was a perfect horror introduction for me and I will definitely be reading more from Ania Ahlborn; I think The Bird Eater may be next. I’ll for sure keep you posted. If you like horrific and eerie and deeply disturbing then this might be for you. If you’ve read this one or have another recommendation let me know in the comments below!