Rating: 5 out of 5
I believe in Bennytown!
Matt Carter’s Bennytown is a hallucinogenic ride through a very happy–and very scary–amusement park called Bennytown. Benny is a person in a giant bunny costume, and he has other happy friends who hang out with him. There are rides, restaurants, places to get photos and autographs, and more. Noel and his father own season passes, so they’ve gone hundreds of times. After Noel’s mother died, going to Bennytown was what finally got Noel talking and interacting again–he has a lot of reason to love the place. On his 16th birthday, his father rousts him from bed, makes him dress up, and drives him to Bennytown to get a job there. It turns out he’s just what they’re looking for, and his first job is working at an ice cream stand. Before long he’ll find out that Bennytown has secrets–an awful lot of them. Garcia, one of the janitors, offers to show him some of the secret places, and she becomes his guide. As Noel works, he gets more and more into the “one great family”-ness of the place, and his girlfriend is getting worried about him.
The book see-saws back and forth between Noel in 2019 and various other workers and visitors from 1958 (while the park was being built) onward. I didn’t feel dizzy or lost, because nothing hinges on the reader remembering exactly who was in what time frame. It’s a great way to introduce us to a great many dangers and wonders without having to shoehorn a way to fit Noel into all of them. It also serves to show the reader just how Bennytown got its start, and what its creators and maintainers have done with it.
I love watching Noel get pulled slowly, gradually, and oh-so-smoothly into the thing that is Bennytown. Before long he can’t bring himself to swear (or use other terms on the list of “Poison Words”), doesn’t want to hear anything bad about the park from his girlfriend Olivia, and somehow manages to survive a night stuck in the park–there’s a safety reason why no one is allowed in overnight! The ways and means of churning through bodies are myriad and impressive. This is a highly creative semi-slasher-type horror. It has a surprising amount of depth behind why the park is the way it is.
There are hidden clubs for VIPs, a mysterious “redemption program” for troublesome employees, a system of tunnels (“Rabbit Holes”) beneath the park, multiple murderers stalking the grounds, and more. And through it all we follow Noel, who just wants to be a part of the Bennytown family.
Content note: gore, sex, sexual assault (f on m), implication of child molestation, and animal harm. It isn’t too intense–it’s just varied.