When awkward, nerdy teen Gene Hawnt hits his head and dies, he doesn’t expect to have to haunt his house forever—powerless to leave, touch any objects, or even get a message to his grieving family. The arrival of a new family interrupts Gene’s incredibly boring afterlife, especially when he realizes that one of people moving in is a teen medium who can actually see and hear him. Meanwhile, Marti is a girl very comfortable with death; she expected to die young due to a heart condition, and most of her friends growing up were ghosts. Since her near-death experience two years ago, a dark shadow has been growing around her and influencing everyone in her life, including her depressed mother and abusive stepfather. Marti and Gene’s camaraderie begins to morph into romance, but with the dark presence growing stronger every day, they find themselves forced to fight off a demon who feeds off of violence and chaos.
HAWNT alternates between Gene and Marti’s third-person perspectives, and author Elizabeth J. Rekab gives each protagonist a distinct and engaging voice. Gene is fretful and scattered, with a dry humor that gives his chapters much-needed levity as he grapples with his untimely death and inability to move on. The emotional intensity behind Gene’s attempts to pick up a marble in one memorable scene is sure to have readers cheering him on. Marti’s chapters are candid and eerie: facing death from a young age made her strong and practical, but the mysterious shadow hovering over her makes it difficult for her to sort out whether startlingly violent, intrusive thoughts are the demon’s…or her own. Her no-nonsense attitude paired with Gene’s understated charm makes for fun banter and cute, bumbling moments (especially when Gene forgets to knock before walking through walls). Rekab does well to show the dissonance between self-perception and how others see you, as Gene and Marti blatantly admire qualities about each other—Gene’s compassion, Marti’s resourcefulness—that neither notices in themselves.
The story veers into cheesy moments at times but avoids becoming too cliched by incorporating elements across several genres. Rekab puts a twist on the classic coming-of-age arc, as Gene grows more confident and mature after death than he was in life. Marti’s deep love for the mother who has alternated between overly sheltering her and letting her down when she most needs protection adds complexity to the everyday family scenes. Meanwhile, Marti’s increasingly violent blackout moments create a sinister counterpoint to the buildup of her sweet, earnest relationship with Gene.
Young adult novel HAWNT blends elements of paranormal romance and horror with memorable characters and a fast-paced build to the dramatic climax for a fun, gripping page-turner with wry humor, twists, and chills galore.
~Cameron Gillespie for IndieReader