I’m not a big horror fan, though I’ve read my share of Stephen King, of course. It’s too easy to fall into cliché and too hard to ensure that each new turn of events is unpredictable. James Dawson’s funny, truly scary book, Say Her Name, manages to avoid both these pitfalls, at least in part by tackling them head-on. We start in a creepy girls’ boarding school with a bunch of pupils plus some local boys giggling their way through a preposterous re-enacting of a ghost summoning. No one thinks it’ll work. They’re mocking the idea, and yet … dark and stormy night, flickering candles, of course they’re all a bit creeped out. And rightly, as it turns out. The very next day, our heroine Bobbie receives a message written in the steam of the bathroom mirror ‘FIVE DAYS’. There’s a good bit of is-it-just-someone-messing about? and I-don’t-believe-in-ghosts before Bobbie realises that the message means she and the other two who went through the ritual have only five days before they disappear like Bloody Mary’s previous victims.
I read Say Her Name in one enormous gulp on a long flight, completely consumed by it, though very glad to be in a light space surrounded by other people. It is very, very good. Not a clunky moment or a plot hole that I could see, strong, believable characters, including the ghost herself. Read it. But not when you’re alone in the dark. And definitely not anywhere where there’s a mirror.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2015