Title: The Uninvited
Author: Liz Jensen
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Source: e-ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother's neck and fires. An isolated incident, say the experts. The experts are wrong. Across the world, children are killing their families. Is violence contagious? As chilling murders by children grip the country, anthropologist Hesketh Lock has his own mystery to solve: a bizarre scandal in the Taiwan timber industry. Hesketh has never been good at relationships: Asperger's Syndrome has seen to that. But he does have a talent for spotting behavioral patterns and an outsider's fascination with group dynamics. Nothing obvious connects Hesketh's Asian case with the atrocities back home. Or with the increasingly odd behavior of his beloved stepson, Freddy. But when Hesketh's Taiwan contact dies shockingly and more acts of sabotage and child violence sweep the globe, he is forced to acknowledge possibilities that defy the rational principles on which he has staked his life, his career, and, most devastatingly of all, his role as a father. Part psychological thriller, part dystopian nightmare, The Uninvited is a powerful and viscerally unsettling portrait of apocalypse in embryo.
I requested this ARC from NetGalley because the description instantly grabbed me. Hello, that first line? Terrifying. I think we can all agree that the idea of child-as-villain is extremely creepy (think The Omen, The Grudge, The Ring...gah). What would make an otherwise innocent seven-year-old do something so random and horrific? Do I need to clear all the sharp objects out of my house? I had to find out.
The beginning of the book only served to heighten this intrigue. It starts off by describing the event above, with the girl killing her grandmother. Then it jumps to Hesketh Lock, our protagonist, who is investigating corporate sabotage cases in Taiwan. The disconnect is huge between these two subjects, but it left me glued to the book until I could find out the relation between them.
Let's talk for a minute about Hesketh. What a distinctive choice of narrator! It took me a little while to get used to his manner of speaking. Living with Asperger's, Hesketh has a very "materialistic" view of the world. He sees and focuses on physical things, rather than the complicated thoughts or emotions behind them. This means he often describes things rather abruptly (maybe even callously), but this is a result of his disorder, rather than a conscious choice in thinking. (Also, this leads to some unintentionally humorous quotes:
"Is she beautiful? Most of my male colleagues think so, emphatically. They also claim to like her 'as a person.'")
Jensen did a great job fleshing out his character, and this alone adds so much to the story. Plus, Hesketh's materialistic POV puts him in a unique position to deal with the pandemic of child violence without letting extreme emotion get in the way. As becomes evident in the novel, almost no one else connected with the story is able to do that. And for good darn reason--hello, a bunch of possessed third graders are killing their families! It's freaking disturbing!!
So, how does it all wrap up? No spoilers here, but I thought the ending walked some fine lines. A fine line between being thoughtful or preachy. A fine line between being abrupt or perfectly placed. I took a few days to let it sink in, and I've decided that overall, Jensen walked those tightropes well and gave the book a solid finish. She obviously had a message that she was trying to convey at the end, and she managed to do it without taking away from the hard-hitting impact of the rest of the plot. Timing-wise, I do think it was a tad abrupt--the novel suddenly jumps forward several weeks, and then wraps up in a few pages, which is a tough leap after a story that was otherwise so evenly paced. But the content was good, and it wrapped things up while also leaving you with a lot of questions to ponder.
I've seen several people place this in the "horror" genre on Goodreads, but I think "dystopian" is far more appropriate. Yes, there are some terrifying events in this book, but they are more thought-provoking than horrific, much of the time. If you can handle some violent scenes, this is an absorbing read that's worth the creep-factor.