Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Katrina Leno’s Young Adult novel Horrid, followed by an interview with the author.
Following her father’s death, Jane North-Robinson and her mom move from sunny California to the dreary, dilapidated old house in Maine where her mother grew up. All they want is a fresh start, but behind North Manor’s doors lurks a history that leaves them feeling more alone… and more tormented.
As the cold New England autumn arrives, and Jane settles in to her new home, she finds solace in old books and memories of her dad. She steadily begins making new friends, but also faces bullying from the resident “bad seed,” struggling to tamp down her own worst nature in response. Jane’s mom also seems to be spiraling with the return of her childhood home, but she won’t reveal why. Then Jane discovers that the “storage room” her mom has kept locked isn’t for storage at all–it’s a little girl’s bedroom, left untouched for years and not quite as empty of inhabitants as it appears…
My review of Horrid
This book was such a crazy ride and I enjoyed every page of it! Firstly, my favorite aspect of this book was definitely the atmosphere. If you like to read stories about spooky old houses which may or may not be haunted, you’re going to love this book. I can’t say too much about what actually happens in the book, but the author definitely added some interesting spins on the classic haunted house tropes that fans of the genre will really enjoy.
Through Jane’s eyes, we follow the strange events that start to happen in the house and as the story progresses, you get this feeling of dread that starts to get stronger and stronger as more secrets begin to unravel. Jane herself is a fascinating character. She has a very blunt and honest way of looking at herself and right from page one, she unabashedly shares with us various aspects of her personality, such as her anger issues and her unusual eating disorder, both of which are explored really well throughout the story. It is clear that the recent loss of her father has left her with feelings that she’s still trying to come to terms with, and as the strange events that surround her become darker and darker, the lines between what’s real and what’s not begin to blur. The book also does a wonderful job at exploring mental health issues and creates interesting parallels between what Jane is going through, and the things that she’s witnessing in the house.
Also, although I do read quite a lot of horror fiction, both YA and adult, this book still managed to spook me several times! I’d definitely recommend this book, especially if you like dark stories with a bit of a weird spin. I would also say that you definitely need to read in between the lines a bit to get the full effect of the story. This is for sure a book that I will be thinking about for a while.
Interview with Katrina Leno
QaS: This nursery rhyme, which was adapted from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is referenced several times in the book:
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good
She was very, very good
But when she was bad
She was horrid
Not only does this nursery rhyme serve as an inspiration for the book’s title, but each line is also used as the title for each section of the book. What inspired you to use this nursery rhyme as the framework for your novel?
KL: I had just finished writing my previous book, which came out in 2019 – You Must Not Miss – and I was thinking about what I would work on next, what my next project would be. I kept coming up blank, so I went back to You Must Not Miss and examined it almost like an outsider, trying to look at it as if I wasn’t the one who wrote it. It uses the same format as Horrid – there’s a nursery rhyme and each section pulls a line from that poem. So I started doing research on different nursery rhymes, and I found that they’re honestly all a bit creepy. Like on the surface, nursery rhymes are sort of cute and harmless, but when you look closer at the words and the meaning behind them, you start to realize, like… Oh, this is actually quite dark. In that researching process, I came across this poem and had a very vivid flashback/memory of my mom reciting it to me as a child. I’d always have one curl in my entire head of hair that really curls more than the rest, and she would pull that curl to the front of my face and recite the poem to me. And it’s a creepy poem! So honestly, that discovery and those memories became the inspiration and jumping off point for the entire book.
QaS: The story is set in the fictional town of Bells Hollow in Maine, where Jane and her mother decide to move at the beginning of the book. Maine is a popular setting for spooky stories, featuring notably in several of Stephen King’s books. What drew you to Maine in particular as the setting for this book?
KL: I think there’s something very magical about Maine, and it works really well for the background of spooky stories! I drew a lot of inspiration from Stephen King in particular, so I think more than anything, that was a homage and nod to him. I had been to Maine before, but not since I was a child, so after I finished the first draft of the book, I took a long road trip through Maine with my mother, and I rewrote sections of the book to incorporate more of my experience during that trip. Honestly, it’s just a beautiful, special place, and I couldn’t be happier that I chose it for the setting of Horrid – now it feels like the book couldn’t have taken place anywhere else!
QaS: In the book, Jane is a huge Agatha Christie fan and we learn that among Agatha Christie’s famous detectives, her favorite is Hercule Poirot. What about you? Are you team Hercule Poirot or team Miss Marple?
KL: I’ve actually never read a Miss Marple book! My whole love of Agatha Christie and a BIG inspiration for the character of Jane in particular came from a visit to my local library bookstore. I went in one day and they had a massive pile of old pulp Agatha Christie paperbacks for fifty cents each. I was drawn to them for the covers – they’re so quirky and weird and funny and the outside edges of the pages were all dyed funky colors like red and turquoise and bright green. I bought a few I had never read before and then went back a few days later and bought the rest – I just adored them all and how they looked together on a shelf. And then, of course, I read one, and it happened to be a Hercule Poirot novel, and I was hooked. I don’t think people realize that Agatha Christie has such a distinct, funny sense of humor – I was literally laughing out loud during certain parts. Hercule Poirot in particular is a hoot. So I guess I have to say I’m team Hercule for now, but I’m definitely going to read a Miss Marple book in the near future!
QaS: Horrid starts with a first line that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the story: “She couldn’t remember the first book she had eaten”. We find out at the beginning of the book that since she was a child, Jane has been eating pages ripped out of books to calm herself down. Of all the books that she’s eaten over the years, we are given the titles of three in particular: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, all of which are children’s books. A parallel can be drawn between the choice of these particular books and themes such as the loss of childhood innocence, and the need to grow up. Would this have played a subconscious role in Jane’s decision to pick these books in particular?
KL: I love how you’ve picked up on that parallel! I was a huge reader as a kid and I used to read all of the Narnia books and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland very obsessively – over and over and over. I think the idea of consuming something is really interesting because even though I didn’t physically eat and digest those pages, I absolutely consumed those books – they are a part of my body and my mind just as if I had taken actual bites out of them. So I like to think about the things we love so much that they literally become us. I think a lot of childhood books deal with that loss of innocence you mentioned and Jane certainly is experiencing this transition – from blissful ignorance to this huge truth about her family. I think Jane would absolutely have been drawn to characters who are forced into the unknown – Wendy going to Neverland, the Pevensie children climbing into the wardrobe, Alice falling into the rabbit hole – whether she consciously know why she was choosing those books or not.
QaS: There are also several references to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland throughout the book. Jane and Alice Liddell are said to have the same birthday and Jane also reflects on how she feels a sense of kinship with Alice. Also, themes such as the loss of control over one’s circumstances, as well as confronting or embracing madness, can not only be found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but are also echoed in Jane’s own story. In reference to the following quote from Alice in particular, would you say that there are parallels between Jane’s and Alice’s stories?
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
KL: I love the idea that you can’t help who you are – so Alice fighting against ‘mad people’ while at the same time being mad herself (because I think the point is that we’re all mad in our own beautiful ways) really speaks to me. Similarly, Jane has been fighting against this internal rage her entire life – and now she’s sort of being faced with like, where does that rage come from? What does that rage mean? Is rage only bad, or is there a positive side to it, as well? I think Alice and Jane have a lot in common, and Jane certainly feels drawn to Alice and feels an affinity with her, especially because they share the same birthday. Jane walking into North Manor is a lot like Alice falling into the rabbit hole – there’s this unknown, this excitement, this terror – so many emotions and they’re all so new and visceral! They both have a tendency to rebel against who they are and where they are and I think they differ only in where they end up at the end of their journeys – but I can’t say more about that, because it will be a spoiler!
QaS: Throughout the book, Jane keeps finding strange roses around her new home. Roses are associated with love and beauty, but they also have thorns and therefore can also hurt. This duality is echoed in the nursery rhyme’s last few lines: “When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid”. What do the roses represent for you with regards to Jane and what she is experiencing?
KL: I’ve always hated roses for some reason! I’m not a big flower person, actually (I much prefer houseplants that don’t bloom!), but roses in particular I’ve just never liked. But they’re also probably the most popular flower in the entire world, and I love how different colors mean different things – red for romantic love, yellow for friendship, etc. And almost universally, people view flowers as very beautiful, but as you’ve pointed out, they also have this thing that can physically hurt you – thorns. So many things and people in life have that same dichotomy and Jane is a great example of that. When she’s good – she’s very, very good. And I tried to really show that. I think she’s genuinely a kind and compassionate person. But she definitely has those thorns as well, and that was exactly what I was going for!
QaS: And finally for the last question, what are some of your favorite spooky reads?
KL: I mean, Stephen King is just the master of course. The Shining is one of the best books ever written, and verrrry spooky. I also love Shirley Jackson – especially The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. She’s an absolute master of gothic horror and every single one of her sentences is perfect. For young adult readers, I highly recommend Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood series – she is a pitch-perfect writer and those books are truly terrifying.
About the author
Katrina Leno was born on the East Coast and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is the author of six critically acclaimed novels – Horrid, You Must Not Miss, Summer of Salt, Everything All at Once, The Lost & Found, and The Half Life of Molly Pierce. Her seventh book, Summer Reading, will be released in 2022.
You can follow Katrina online at the following: