The front cover for Girls of Little Hope by Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen. The page is bright pink There is a white milk carton on in the middle with images of three girls down the right hand side of the carton and the book's title on the front of the carton. There is a black liquid splashed around the carton.

Girls of Little Hope

Girls of Little Hope by Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen from @TitanBooks #BookReview #Horror #Nostalgia

Girls of Little Hope by Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen

Titan Books, pb, £8.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

The front cover for Girls of Little Hope by Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen. The page is bright pink There is a white milk carton on in the middle with images of three girls down the right hand side of the carton and the book's title on the front of the carton. There is a black liquid splashed around the carton.

Little Hope Town, USA, 1996. Donna, Rae and Kat are best friends, keeping each other sane in small-town America where nothing ever happens. They are thick as thieves until one night, they go into the woods surrounding their town, and only two come out. Naked, Donna and Rae have no memory of what happened to them or where Kat is. They just have a vague nightmare of a snake-like monster. But Kat’s mother, Marybeth, suspects the girls know a lot more than they are saying and begins her own investigations into the girls, leading her to the town’s resident bad boy; Ronnie Gaskins, who burned his parents alive ten years ago. How are the girls and Ronnie connected? What really happened in the woods? Will anyone be the same when the truth is uncovered, or will it destroy Little Hope completely?

Wow. Girls of Little Hope ticks all my horror boxes. For such a small book, relatively speaking, it packs in so much, but this doesn’t affect the book’s pacing. Instead, it holds a steady forward movement, any possible build-in momentum frustrated by the natural slow-moving pace of small-town America. I found this helped me build empathy with Marybeth, Kat’s mother, who is convinced Donna and Rae are hiding something from her and she is being held away from her daughter. When the pace picks up, it is because everything has gone wrong, and there is nothing left to hold Marybeth or the evil from the woods back.

There are many layers to the horror in this story, starting with the obvious, a girl missing in the woods, to the more subtle, the terror of being trapped in a small town like Little Hope forever. Through excerpts from Kat’s journal, we learn that is the thing the girls fear the most. Rae’s father is wealthy, big in the church and the town, and controls every aspect of his family’s life. Marybeth was a young mother and married to a thug who would assault her in public and then runs around town with other women. This behaviour is overlooked because the 1990s society was even more male-dominated than now. It is even acknowledged that Rae’s father helped cover up the sexual abuse of the local clergy. I found this quiet horror disturbing. Little Hope is rotten with a lustful, entitled patriarchy, and it isn’t surprising the girls fear staying there and becoming like their mothers.

Then there is the creature horror. There is something in the woods, devouring small creatures and changing each time it does, adapting, becoming bigger and intent on destroying the town. I found the reason for the creature in the woods more horrifying than anything that had gone before. I found this a really clever book, weaving storylines together to constantly build tension and never letting up. I couldn’t put it down.

I found the way the story was told through character points of view, journal entries and newspaper articles engaging. Rather than info dumping back history on the reader, we were given a break from the story and treated to an article about relevant town history that tied in with the last thing the characters discovered.

I found Girls of Little Hope a brilliant read. There was a touch of nostalgia because I was the same age as the main characters at the time, which enhanced my reading pleasure. It was atmospheric with small-town creepiness, teenage angst and town outcasts, and full of twists and turned to keep you guessing until the end. An enjoyable, tight horror to keep you up at night. Highly recommended.

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