This novel for teens is told in two voices, Erik and Thorn. Both boys are mentally ill and struggling with what they see and hear. Erik believes that he is a saint, able to do miracles like having a picked flower that never dies and the sign of a cross formed by his wet body that never evaporates. Erik is silent on the outside but constantly thinking on the inside. His hands bleed with stigmata and he sees things that no one else can. Erik searches for a girl he knows is his destiny. Thorn is haunted by the voices in his head, ones that push him to do things that he would never do otherwise. If he doesn’t submit to the voices, he gets horrible headaches that he barely withstands. As the voices grow more powerful and insistent, Thorn finds that he needs them more and more to make sense of his life. But what he sees as the solution may just be final step in his insanity when his path crosses Erik’s.
Downes has written a beautiful and dark mess of a book where madness lurks everywhere and nothing is quite what it seems, or is it? Woven into it are moments of coherence, times of loving families that turn brutal and cruel eventually. There are moments of love, barely seen through mental illness and still glowing and true. And then there is the insanity itself that winds around, crouches low and threatens everything. It’s impossible to tease apart what is reality and what is delusion until another perspective enters their world and tilts it on its axis.
The voices of the two boys dance together and blur, at times they are indistinguishable from one another and other times they are so distinct that they pierce with individuality. This too is masterfully done, the perspectives are unique and troubling. The two boys are writhing with their inner pain, but in two very different ways. The language is superlative, filled with darkness and horror and also a deep beauty that can’t be mistaken. There are images that dance in that darkness, ones that open it up and let in light and others that close it in so tight you can’t breathe.
Riveting reading, this book is not for everyone. Teens who enjoy a journey into a different haunting perspective will find themselves captured by the writing and the characters in this novel. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.