"School's Out" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Amazon Digital Services
Written by Brian Keene
2017, 60 pages, Fiction
Released on September 1st, 2017
If you’re a hardcore Brian Keene fan, you and I know you don’t need to read this review to run outta here and buy his latest, School’s Out. If, on the other hand, you’re unfamiliar with his work or on the fence about reading more from him, especially a novella that is for all ages (which means it’s kind of a YA title), then listen up. Here’s the thing: I kind of expected to not like this as much as some of my Keene favorites. A book based on an idea his son gave him while the author was dropping him off at school sounds like a cute thing, a really cool project, but not exactly something that would make you scream, “Damn, this is exactly why Keene is one of the best in the business!” Well, you’d be wrong to think that. This short book has everything a Keene book is supposed to have along with an extra dose of anguish, quiet desperation, and probably one of Keene’s most unexpectedly emotional endings.
In School’s Out, we follow Alan, a kid who, like any regular 8-year-old, doesn’t particularly enjoy going to school. In his mind, staying home with his toys, comics, and videogames is a much better option. Sadly, that’s exactly what he gets to do after a fast-acting global pandemic leaves him orphaned. With his father’s corpse rotting away on his bed, Alan quickly adapts to living alone and being scared, sad, hungry, and lonely. There is only him and his cat left in his immediate world, and when things take a turn for the worse, he finds himself out of options and being forced to do the unthinkable: take the most dangerous trip of his life in order to try to reach his third-grade classroom.
That this is a Keene book becomes clear as soon as readers reach the end of the opening line: “Alan’s daddy and the electricity both died on the same day.” From that point forward, readers are thrown into the microcosm of Alan’s house, especially his parents’ bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen. The world this kid is forced to navigate has changed, and that reduced space is used as vehicle to paint a picture of what has gone down across the globe. Alan and his cat are forced to become survivors and the boy has to constantly adapt to the changes around him. The more dire his situation becomes, the more we feel for him. The result is a gripping, touching narrative that will grab you by the feels and spin you around the room a few times, all in less than 100 pages.
One of the things that has made Keene one of my favorite authors is his understanding of human nature, especially when people are thrown into horrible situations. In School’s Out, he does the same with a kid, and that makes everything from hunger and loneliness to fear of death and a corpse exploding in a room feel somehow more powerful, more important. Furthermore, jaded fuckers like me have a hard time empathizing with adults because we’ve seen what they’re capable of, but a kid whose world has quickly and violently shattered in a matter of days is the kind of character that’s impossible to ignore. Plus, the author knows how to keep desperation and fear on the plate at all times while heaping on healthy portions of shattering grief:
Standing there next to the bed, Alan started to cry again. His sobs turned into wails. He screamed for his father to come back to life, and for his mother to come home, and for God to ﬁx everything and make it all better, but none of those things happened.
Ultimately, this is exactly what I expected and something totally unexpected. School’s Out is a touching narrative that can be shared with younger audiences and a project born out of Keene’s talks with his son and written based on the youngster’s ideas, which makes it even better. However, the tension, short explosions of gore, descriptions, and superb writing are all the same you’d find in the author’s hardcore horror classics. It also has, as mentioned above, one of the most emotional endings in Keene’s oeuvre, and he, as usual, nails the landing without a glitch. School’s Out is a master class in poignant horror fiction. Go pick up a copy before the bell rings.