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Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE HARROWING by Alexandra Sokoloff

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Ghost stories are sort of a staple with me. I enjoy them when they’re well done, in books as well as DVDs, and I especially enjoy them when it’s dark or overcast outside. There’s something about the mood, the fact that I can almost believe ghosts exist.I sat down with Alexandra Solokoff’s first novel, The Harrowing, and prepared for a fright fest based on the reviews and the creepy cover. I ended up getting a mixed bag of enjoyment.

The plot revolves around five college students left on their own over the long Thanksgiving holidays. Each of them, as it turns out, had his or her reason for not going home. For Robin Stone, the protagonist of the tale, the reason was her drunken mother. During the first 50 pages, we get a good look at each of these characters. Then, with the fall break in full swing, they lose the power to Baird College where they’re in attendance and all the lights go out for the night. I personally really liked the atmosphere of getting locked up in the college and losing power. So far, everything looked good, but it was also too familiar. However, a ghost story has to have a lot of the same earmarks in order to succeed.

However, the group doesn’t stay stymied long. They get the fire in the fireplace going and begin searching for something to do. In short order, to no one’s real surprise, Robin and the others find a Ouija board. I knew then that something was going to happen because this is the point in all the movies where stuff occurs. But the Ouija board was upsetting to a degree. I don’t know how many books I’ve read that have featured those, and there was even a series of B movies based on those devices (Witchboard, etc.)

Even with the red flags firmly in place at this point, I kept reading. Solokoff’s prose style is simple and moves quickly. Those are pluses that keep me turning pages. Unfortunately, the characters never grew past that point. I didn’t get any further revelations of their backgrounds, never saw them make any other deeper or more meaningful connections to each other or the story. They just followed their predestined course to get to the end of the book.

That was satisfying in one regard. I got the ghost story I was looking for. But it was unsatisfying because it didn’t offer anything new. I will admit that some of the Jewish legends that were mixed into the prose were interesting and entertaining, but they didn’t get deep or more fleshed out either. The ending was almost down to paint-by-number, even the final ending, which wasn’t a surprise and was totally expected.

Anyone reading this novel in a single sitting as I did will probably ultimately be satisfied. It’s an entertaining diversion. But if you lay the book down for any time and start thinking about it, or spend time thinking about it after you’ve finished, you’re going to see how thin it is. The plot and the characters are too familiar, and – as the old saying goes – familiarity breeds contempt.

Still, this was probably written more for younger readers who haven’t seen or read a plethora of ghost stories. I think they’ll be more satisfied than I was.

However, I enjoyed the book enough to look for Alexandra Solokoff’s second horror novel, The Price, coming out in hardcover in February 2008.

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