Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: Cuckoo

Author: Gretchen Felker-Martin

Publisher: Titan Books


Reviewed by: Sarah Deeming

Other details: paperback, RRP £9.99

Cuckoo by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Sarah Deeming

1995: Camp Resolution. Seven queer children are snatched from their lives and deposited at a church-run conversion camp in the middle of the desert by the people who should care for them as they are; their parents. But there is something else in the desert, something that wants their bodies, their skins, their identities. Not all of them survive as themselves, and those who do are haunted for the rest of their lives until they realise they must face that evil once and for all, or they will never be free.

I will start my review by saying this book has trigger warnings for bullying, homophobia, and abuse, and I found it a difficult read – but I will also say that is the point of this book. It is not meant to be a nice story about a group of kids fighting evil; it is meant to be a brutal portrayal of how young people feel when they face hatred and disgust every day because they are attracted to people of the same sex or were born in the wrong body. It is all the more harrowing because the children were sent there by their parents, who didn’t like their children the way they were. Imagine how much that messes with a person? My heart broke for these kids as they struggled with feelings of worthlessness.

The story is reminiscent of Stephen King’s IT, which also filled me with sadness because all the bad things that happen in the book are due to an ancient creature manipulating people. But turn the news on, and you see stories of parents murdering their children, imitating IT, and it has nothing to do with an evil creature. Cuckcoo is the same. It’s a story about children being abused because something is trying to steal their identities, but turn on the TV and see the same thing but without the evil creature influencing people’s behaviour. As I have already said, it made me really think.

The story moves at a good pace with a steady build of tension, which makes everything worse because we know what is coming for the kids, thanks to a fantastic prologue. There is a lot of body horror, both natural and supernatural, you have been warned, and sexual scenes mixed in with a heavy dose of swearing, drinking, drugs and smoking. All in all, this is not a book for the faint-hearted, but I think it is an important book because it gives us an insight into a world beyond most people’s experience.

My only complaint is I felt there were too many characters, and it took me a while to get my head around who was who. But that is a minor thing, really, and it didn’t stop my appreciation of the book. The characters were strong, Felker-Martin stayed true to them throughout; for example, a tiny detail I noticed was the swearing and when she did and didn’t use it. One character, Nadine, swore all the time, like every other word, while Shelby rarely did. It’s such a little thing, but it was consistent throughout and spoke a great deal about their personalities in difficult situations. Felker-Martin stuck the landing even if it was hard to read. No spoilers, but my favourite character didn’t make it.

Cuckcoo is the first thing I have read by Felker-Martin, but it won’t be the last. She is a refreshing addition to the horror line-up and an author who will regularly grace my bookshelves. Cuckoo is a powerful read with endearing characters with some highly descriptive gruesome scenes, full of tension and terror. Highly recommended.

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