Do you love the way Stephen King writes friend groups, like in It and Stand by Me? If so, you will love these books. The kids in these books have that tight-knit comradery that is always prevalent in Stephen King’s writing, and of course, they each have their own monsters to conquer.
The Stars Did Wander Darkling by Colin Meloy is about a group of kids who find they are the only ones who can save their town from an ancient evil. Our main protagonist, Archie is the first in his group of friends to sense the shift in town. It all began when his dad began developing a portion of the headlands for a fancy resort even though he said the site was not safe to build on. Archie notices a man in an old-timey suit staring up at his house one night, and then all hell breaks loose. His dad starts acting very different, followed by almost every adult in town. His friend Oliver (who seems to have a bit of the shine like Danny Torrance), tries to convince the rest of his friends that the adults unearthed something horrible up in the headlands. Together, and eventually with the help of their older siblings and the owner of the movie rental place in town, they discover what it is that was buried in their town and hurry to destroy it before the strange men with unnatural abilities who appeared exactly when the adults broke ground up at the work site get to it first.
This book reminded me the most of King’s beloved Losers Club, down to the one girl in a group of boys who holds the team together. I also really loved the movie rental owner. He inadvertently helped the kids understand what they were up against by describing movies based on their vague, tentative talk of what they were experiencing in town. Also his name is Randy which put me in mind of Scream. I don’t know if the author did that on purpose, but I loved having a movie expert named Randy in the group! This was an all-around great story; the characters, the suspense, the monsters, the friendship. It all works. I highly recommend this one!
Within the Woods by Tony Urban follows 12-year-old Garrett and his friends over the course of their summer break. What should have been a fun, care-free summer turns into a strange, terrifying nightmare when Garrett’s older brother disappears only to come back very different. Garrett soon realizes that something is very wrong in their town. Something seems to be infecting their neighbors, their families, and that Something is coming for them.
This group put me in mind of the Losers Club by way of their interactions together; the way they razz each other and have that easy comradery that just seems to come naturally. And their monster did somewhat remind me of Pennywise in some aspects.
The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett and Link follows our characters Rex and Leif as they try to save their friend Alicia from Whitewood, the reformatory school in town where kids come back from as shadows of their former selves, or not at all. Teaming up with Janine, a recent NYU film school graduate in town looking for a story, and a former “student” of Whitewood, the group piece together the unsettling truth of the school along with its founder, Wayne Whitewood.
Rhett and Link know how to write the dynamic of best friends. Rex and Leif’s friendship flows so well on the page because they are (obviously) modeled after Rhett and Link. They used their memories of years gone by to make the setting and the people feel real, and then just add a bit of terror and suspense to make a fantastically gripping novel!
Dead Flip by Sara Farizan uses a plot device that King uses often: take a completely neutral or even benign object and make it terrifying. In Dead Flip, that object is a pinball machine. A pinball machine that kidnaps Maz and Cori’s best friend, Sam, Jumanji style. Years later, as Maz and Cori are getting ready to graduate from high school, Sam comes back, still the same age as when he disappeared. He seems exactly the same as when they were kids, as if no time has passed for him, but the longer he stays, the more it becomes clear that something is indeed very different about him. Maz is torn between his happiness that Sam is back and his concern that his return could cause serious trouble. With Cori and a couple new friends, Maz is determined to figure out exactly what the pinball machine really is and how to stop it.
This was an incredibly original and engaging book. And just look at that cover art! I was hooked from beginning to end by the characters alone, then even more so once the action really picked up. Each character is complex and relatable, and their friendship is too. Their friendship is what drives them through the whole narrative; it’s what brings them to the final face-off and what gets them through it.