By J.P. Rose (published by Andersen Press)
They began to walk back down the track but Tyrese glanced over his shoulder towards the trees on the mountainside. Even though it was hot and humid, he shivered, his skin tingling. Why couldn’t he shake off the feeling that something or…someone was watching him?
The Haunting of Tyrese Walker begins with Tyrese and his mum making their way to his paternal grandmother’s house in Jamaica. Less than six months beforehand, Ty’s father passed away and he’s not taking it well; his mum feels that a change of scenery might help. However, it just seems to make things worse, as he refuses to talk about his father, and gets angry and lashes out when others try to.
Ty is somewhat distanced from his heritage, which is why he doesn’t speak Patois like his Grammy and cousin, and why he doesn’t believe Grammy’s tales of supernatural creatures. This disbelief causes him to not scatter the rice around the house on the first night when Grammy asks, and it’s here that things start to go spookily wrong…because now, the Shadow Man wants him.
What follows from there is an exciting blend of adventure and supernatural horror as Ty, his cousin Marvin, and their new friend Ellie-Mae have to track the history of the Shadow Man and avoid his minions in an attempt to defeat him and save not only Ty, but those they love.
All the while, the Shadow Man is slowly trying to drive Ty mad, making him see and hear things that aren’t there, causing him to black out, and clouding his mind. As the back cover so perfectly states, “Who can Tyrese trust when his own mind is falling apart and there’s nowhere left to hide?”
It may seem like I’ve summed up a lot of the story in that outline, but the truth is that I’ve barely scratched the surface! I could tell immediately from the blurb on the back that this story was going to be unlike anything I’ve read recently.
It’s obvious from the get-go that Ty’s grief is all-consuming, and overshadows a lot of what he does. I spent a lot of the story wishing that he would talk to others about his feelings, but also understanding why he doesn’t. It’s a heart-breaking portrayal of grief that is almost visceral in its accuracy, and emotionally difficult to read at times.
Rose writes all of the characters with care and attention, each genuine enough that I could see them being based upon real people – from Ty’s mum’s attempts to pull him out of his shell and Ellie’s troubles with her parents, to Marvin’s casual banter and Grammy’s infectious joy punctuated with deep concern. Everyone means well, and tries to help Ty in their own way, but it is understandable that he feels overwhelmed.
Her descriptions are also incredibly evocative; the layers of heat in the country, the plants and terrain, the way the characters dress and talk (I do believe this is the first time I’ve seen Patois used in a children’s/YA book, though I suspect that may be my failing), even the visions and the atmosphere. It all pulls together to paint a detailed picture of the place and people, and what Ty himself is experiencing.
I found the supernatural elements fascinating; Jamaican folklore is not something I’m very familiar with, and this story is well and truly rooted in it. European readers may see some similarities in certain aspects of the creatures (such as the soucouyant’s need to gather spilled rice), but I want to be clear that they are connected intrinsically to the culture and the location, with their own deep, rich lore. The visions that Ty is subjected to range from gross (content warning for those who hate bugs – there’s a lot of them!) to chilling, and even to sad as his brain becomes foggier.
The story makes good use of pacing, and the ebbs and flows of action to give you moments to relax before ramping things up again, all with an underlying tension that builds throughout. It doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares, but rather an understanding that the youngsters have no choice but to constantly move closer to danger in order to find the truth.
Overall, it is an excellent horror story, with realistic characters and a haunting plot that doubles as a poignant metaphor on how easily someone call fall into grief and the difficulties in getting back out. Even the cover (expertly drawn by Dananayi Muwanigwa) reminds me of the old horror movies of early Hollywood, and I think it would make a fantastic horror show (assuming they kept Rose involved and didn’t remove any of the charm) – Netflix series when?
If The Haunting of Tyrese Walker sounds intriguing to you, you can grab a copy at the link below.
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Looking for more books for young adults? If so, you can see our previous reviews here.