Rating: 5 out of 5
In Tim Meyer’s horror novel Malignant Summer, it’s 1998. High school students Randall and Alphie are hiding clues for the annual Great Hunt, in which a bunch of students try to solve a clue hunt. After having a very creepy encounter in a graveyard, they seem to disappear. A little later, they’re seen by various kids looking… wrong. Like they have growths on their skin, little roots poking out. Like there’s some dark fluid seeping from their eyes. Their lungs make crackling noises and their eyes turn gold. When one team of students makes it to the graveyard during the hunt, they have a horrible encounter that leaves some of them traumatized and others sick. Meanwhile, a cancer is spreading through the town’s children, and people are sure it’s because of dumping from the local chemical plant. 14-year-old Doug and his friends Grady and Jesse become the unlikely heroes trying to save their town. Working together with them are Maddie and Abby, and local bully Jewel becomes involved from a different direction.
This plot is a fatal cross-contamination between a historical atrocity from the time of the colonists, an Old God from the Land of Dreams, and an eco-horror toxic dump site tale. It all intertwines in fascinating ways. At first the narrative felt a little awkward and confusing, but it picked up very quickly. Doug has a particular role to play, because his mother tried to kill him and his father years earlier to “save them” from what’s happening now. Now he’s hoping his institutionalized mother might have useful information. It becomes difficult as time goes on to recognize the distinction between reality, dreams, and hallucinations, but it never becomes too surreal.
One of the better details is the incredibly dark take on what is essentially Mother Earth. The Mother of Dead Dreams (the Old God has several names) was a creator god on Earth, until she was sent to the land of dreams. She’s angry. She’s infectious. And she wants to get rid of the humans who are wrecking the world she made. It’s a great take on the topic.
There’s a sequence where it seems like we’re going to get the stereotypical Native wise man saving the day, but I’ll just say it happily doesn’t take that well-trodden path.
This is a really fun horror novel with plenty to it. It’s a coming-of-age novel in which not all of the kids in the town will live. It’s creepy and enjoyable and well worth the read.
Content note: racism, bullying, body horror, animal harm/death, domestic violence and drug use, suicidal ideation, monstrous pregnancy.
“Don’t be afraid. Not yet.”