Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
Pub. Date: March 24, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Tor!!)
Summary: Harrison Harrison—H2 to his mom—is a lonely teenager who’s been terrified of the water ever since he was a toddler in California, when a huge sea creature capsized their boat, and his father vanished. One of the “sensitives” who are attuned to the supernatural world, Harrison and his mother have just moved to the worst possible place for a boy like him: Dunnsmouth, a Lovecraftian town perched on rocks above the Atlantic, where strange things go on by night, monsters lurk under the waves, and creepy teachers run the local high school.
On Harrison’s first day at school, his mother, a marine biologist, disappears at sea. Harrison must attempt to solve the mystery of her accident, which puts him in conflict with a strange church, a knifewielding killer, and the Deep Ones, fish-human hybrids that live in the bay. It will take all his resources—and an unusual host of allies—to defeat the danger and find his mother.
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi, Horror
Recommended for: Lovecraft fans!
One of the very first reviews ever posted on this blog was for Daryl Gregory’s Raising Stony Mayhall, a zombie (!!) novel. Before we go any further, let it be known that I am not a zombie fan. At all. Yet I gave this book five stars. It was absolutely wonderful: the setting (bouncing off the back on Night of the Living Dead as a sort-of sequel), the gorgeous writing (I had SO many passages and paragraphs and phrases highlighted in that book!), the character of Stony himself – a zombie taken in by a family as a baby and raised as their own. It was lovely (or as lovely and heartwarming as a novel about the undead can be) and I’ve been eager to get my hands on another novel of his.
Enter Harrison Squared. Harrison Harrison, known as H2, was just three when he lost his leg in a boating accident. Whenever questioned, he would mention it was a piece of shrapnel that tore his flesh, but if he’s honest with himself, the way he remembers it involved tentacles. And teeth. The same accident took the life of his father. Now his mother, a marine biologist, wants to head back to Dunnsmouth, the town that changed their lives thirteen years ago.
For Harrison it means a new school…and this school is like none other. The teachers are beyond bizarre, no one is allowed to enter the library, and the students have developed a sign language-esque way of communicating. The school is the least of his worries though: there’s a fishboy roaming around his house and the boat his mother took out? It was attacked and she’s missing. As H2 races against time to find his mother, he discovers there is definitely something weird going on in Dunnsmouth…and his childhood nightmares of sea monsters might not be in his mind after all.
This seems painfully obvious now (hindsight is always 20/20!), but I hadn’t realized Harrison Squared was YA. Sure the main character is 16, but so what? Plenty of adult novels feature teenage main characters and Raising Stony Mayhall was about a child (who eventually grows to an adult, but still), so I mistakenly assumed this was one of those novels. Nope. I don’t mind at all that Daryl Gregory decided to try his hand at Young Adult, I just wished he wouldn’t have watered down the voice so much. Harrison, a junior in high school, reads more like a 13- or 14-year-old. Not too much of a stretch, I suppose, but there you have it.
The story itself definitely pays homage to Lovecraft and his works as well as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Each chapter features a line or two from the poem and essentially summarizes that chapter in a way that made me giddy with delight. Something strange is going on in Dunnsmouth and no one’s talking, especially not to an outsider like Harrison. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say there’s a old diary, a ghost, and lots of sea monsters involved.
The characters were fine, though nothing particularly special. Harrison’s disability gets him into some hairy situations more than once. The majority of the teachers are big ol’ slimeballs. Lydia, a fellow classmate, initially gives Harrison the cold shoulder (as does the rest of the school – and town, for that matter), but she eventually comes around and invites Harrison to ‘study groups’ where he discovers his classmates aren’t exactly the sheep he pegged them for. Harrison’s Aunt Sel lives for silky clothing and wine – so NOT a person you would want watching your child but oh-so-fun to read about!
A creepy religion, a wicked fun plot, and sea monsters all made Harrison Squared a pretty great read. Bravo to Mr. Gregory for not turning this one into a romance (not so much as a hint of it here, guys), though the ending was severely disappointing. I certainly hope this is going to be a series, because the way it ended was more than a cliffhanger – it felt like it ended halfway through a chapter and that’s just not fair! That said, I think Daryl Gregory is a fantastic writer and his books are a ton of fun. Harrison Squared is actually a prequel to We Are All Completely Fine, which features an adult Harrison as a Monster Hunter – um why isn’t this one in my hands already??