Short Take: “Dweller,” Jeff Strand

Rating: 5 out of 5

In Jeff Strand’s Dweller, it’s 1960. 15-year-old Toby Floren, the class weirdo, finally makes a friend. Only this isn’t an ordinary friend. This is a monster, with sharp teeth and claws. It lives in a cave in the forest, and Toby names it Owen. Over the decades their relationship survives, although it has its rough patches. Toby pours out all of his troubles to Owen, and Owen listens to it all.

The book has longer sections separated by glimpses of Toby and Owen’s lives. Toby has an extremely active imagination, but reality only measures up when it comes to Owen. Toby is badly bullied in school. Even as he ages he’s a loner. He has just enough self-awareness to realize that certain things would make him come across as creepy, but he only barely manages to talk himself out of them. His thought processes always seem to be a bit left-of-center. When he starts heading into dangerous territory, it’s always easy to see how he goes down the slippery slope–while the reader is sitting there waving their arms and trying to get him to stop before things go bad.

Owen generally sees humans as food, making his relationship with Toby all the more bizarre and dangerous. They bond as Toby gives him snacks, and eventually they develop a sort of sign language between them since Owen can’t talk.

There’s drama, horror, gore, and some very touching moments. Well worth reading!

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