Bird Box: The Horror Novel You Should Read Next

Bird_Box_2014_book_cover

I recently read a book so good it made me mad. Like really, fully, fit-throwing mad. Just ask my husband; I didn’t shut up about it for days. Why? Mostly because it was just that good. Also because it’s strikingly similar to one of my (unpublished) novels, and that’s a really vicious kick in the pants for a writer, but I won’t go into that. (Hello, new comp title!) Mostly – and I’m being painfully honest here – I’m mad because this is the type of horror novel I love, that I want to write, and Josh Malerman got there first. And damned if he didn’t do it well. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I stewed in awe and jealousy for a couple of weeks and then decided that was a pretty good sign I should spread the word about this phenomenal book. So here I am saying unequivocally that Bird Box is the horror novel you should read next.

And by next, I mean right this very minute.

If you want the nice, pretty back cover copy you can view it here on Goodreads. The short version is this: some unexplained phenomenon has swept the world, but no one knows what it is, because looking at it causes people to go violently crazy, killing those around them and then themselves. So basically, the crux of the book – which in my opinion is also its supreme strength – is that we never know what the bad, scary thing is, because seeing it equals death. The survivors are inherently ignorant of what they’re up against, which means so is the reader.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman is the best specimen I’ve ever found to support my theory that the unseen/unknown is far scarier than any monster we could create. Imagination, my friends, is terrifying. Malerman utilizes that to brilliant perfection.

Our protagonist is Malorie, a young woman with two children who’s managed to survive the apocalypse so far by never looking outside. The story opens when Malorie decides to travel down the nearby river with the young kids – blindfolded. Since not looking is the only way to survive, they must traverse the new, unknown landscape with its many unnamed hazards and terrors blind. The book then alternates between present and past, explaining the beginnings of the phenomenon, how Malorie survived, and how she managed to raise two children alone, as well as recounting their perilous journey downriver to reach their destination.

Malerman deftly weaves the storylines together into one seamless, ever-building braid of tension. I happened to listen to this novel on audiobook (beautifully performed by Cassandra Campbell – I highly recommend this version if you like audio). Usually I only listen to audiobooks in the car or at work, but I found myself sitting outside in my oven of a car for half an hour to keep the story going. I turned it on for five minutes at a time whenever I had a spare moment because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. I chose it over physical books and TV. That’s how sucked into Malerman’s world I was.

The novel isn’t perfect – no novel is – but for me it’s awfully close. It’s chock full of things I love. For one thing, it’s genuinely scary. One scene in particular had my heart absolutely racing, which is so hard to find. It’s wonderfully written with smooth, smart prose that never gets in the way but also isn’t boring. It’s subtle, understated horror that really crawls under your skin. It never relies on shock value, but it doesn’t pull its punches either. It’s gripping. It’s exquisitely original. It’s atmospheric and brave, and it absolutely makes my “favorites” list.

Mr. Malerman, if you haven’t already read this blog (because I mean, really, who doesn’t have a Google search for their name set up these days?), you can be expecting a fan letter from me any day now. And if I ever have the pleasure of meeting you in person I would like to hug you, kick your shin, shake your hand, and run away.

So, dear readers, have I convinced you? Bird Box should be high on your list. Unless you’re a scaredy cat, in which case you probably shouldn’t even pick it up. That shit’s got to have some fear osmosis embedded in it or something. Whew. 🙂

Have you read Bird Box yet? What’s the scariest novel you’ve read lately? I want to hear about it (but no spoilers, please!). [And if you dig this post, be sure to check out my other “Not Quite Book Reviews” in this category tag.]

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  • klstevens

    Amazing recommendation, Annie! Picked it up and I’m sure I’ll be reading it this weekend instead of doing the things I need to do.

    I’m always jealous of horror writers who actually get to publish their work. I would love to write horror all day, every day, but it just doesn’t sell the way it used to.

    However, I will make a recommendation for you, just because. Ania Ahlborn has written a few horror novels that are what 80s and 90s horror should have been, in book form. They are what I would write, if I could just get over myself. Not sure if you’ve heard of her, or read any of her books, but there you go.

    • Yay! Please let me know how you like it. 😀 I’m on my way to check out Ania Ahlborn now!

      • klstevens

        Hey Annie! I just wanted to let you know that I did, in fact, finish Bird Box this weekend… and while present tense bugged the heck out of me, it was a great story. Right until the end. I was really expecting much more. The anxiety levels at the climax were phenomenal, though. Thanks again for the recommendation!

        • I’m glad you liked it overall. I love present tense, personally, but I know it’s a huge bother for some readers. (I didn’t even think to mention that.) And his ending is, I suspect, polarizing. Some readers will love it like I did and others will be disappointed. So it goes. But thanks for reporting back!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Annie- you HAVE convinced me to read this book, though I AM a scaredy cat, and am, well – scared – to read it. Your theme of “the unseen/unknown is far scarier than any monster we could create” is, in some ways, what I talked about on my blog today as well. Great minds!

    I also really appreciated your honesty and humor: ‘And if I ever have the pleasure of meeting you in person I would like to hug you, kick your shin, shake your hand, and run away.’ I laughed out loud at that. It does stink when you’re not the first one to the show with an idea. We both know that feeling! (I’ve missed you, by the way! Need to send you a pic of my CORAL — i.e. orangish– office!) I know you love your orange!

    • Yaaaay! That’s really exciting. I can hardly wait to hear what you think. And thanks so much, lady. I’ve missed you too! I’ll be coming around online more often soon. Off to read your blog — and please email me the pic of your office!

  • I never review books on my blog, but I featured this one a few months back. Loved it, loved it, loved it!! And I never fan-girl, but I nearly fainted when I friended Josh on FB and he accepted back! Yup, this is a truly original and awesome horror story!! 🙂

    • Oh wow, I missed that one. It must have been when I was on my blog-reading hiatus. I love that you love it too! 😀 And I’m happy to hear he’s friendly online. I love it when authors are kind and accessible these days. Awesome!!

  • jclementwall

    First, I somehow missed this post. Must go check my email settings. Second, I’m totally convinced. I absolutely will read this book. Third, I have oh-so-much faith that you can do a novel just as riveting, subtle, scary, and smart. *adjusts position on edge of her seat*

    • It’s not you; it’s me! Or rather, it’s my old email subscription service. It went wonky on me, so everyone actually missed this post. I transferred all of my existing subscribers over to my new MailChimp list, though, so you should get them from the next one on.

      I am *so* happy you’re going to read it! Please let me know what you think. And thank you, j. <3

  • A. B. Davis

    This is totally high up on the list, because like you, Annie, the unknown is what makes horror so terrifying for me *this year’s Halloween blog topic!*. And one of your other recent horror novel reads is turning out to be quite enjoyable (The Passage), so I’m confident in your taste. 😉 Regarding scariest novel I’ve read lately, there’ve been a few from the horror genre that I’ve had the pleasure of reading thus far this year. I too can recommend Ania Ahlborn, as I really enjoyed her writing style and concept for Within These Walls (one of our freebie books from the con). I also read The Shining this year and all the scenes with the hedge garden were pretty terrifying for me. Also, one of the opening scenes in The Passage was pretty good; if you remember that final email from the research team in the jungle in the second chapter *shudder*. As for a book that scares me in its entirety, I have yet to encounter that. I’m hoping It or Bird Box will do the trick. Wish me luck!

    • Yay! I love it when people love the books I love! It doesn’t surprise me at all that our tastes line up. Glad you liked The Passage, and I KNOW you’ll like Bird Box! (But still let me know when you’re done!) Agreed about The Shining; those hedge scenes were killer. And I do remember that Passage scene you’re talking about; it was what hooked me into the book. Ania Ahlborn is one of those authors whose name I just never noticed/held onto until recently; she also wrote Seed, which was on my to-read list for years. Okay, I’m convinced. I’ll give her a read soon. 🙂

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    This sounds absolutely terrifying (and I agree that the unseen/unknown is far scarier than the known), and so I will approach with extreme caution… BUT because you’ve recommeneded it so highly, I at least need to go and read an excerpt. You make it sound wayyyy too good!

    • Yikes! I’m shocked. 🙂 I’d feel incredibly guilty if you read it and it scared the bejeezus out of you, so… I’m torn. Ha!

  • Diann

    Annie, glad to read your rec! (For some reason, this post wasn’t delivered though, will have to sign up again.) I don’t know that I’ll be reading it because it might be a bit scary for me, but I did pass it along to my boyfriend, who is already reading it! He’s also really picky but reads a new book practically every two days so when I hear something I think he’ll like I pass it on straightaway.

    Btw, thanks for your comment on my Runners World Audiobook piece!

    • Hey Diann! You’re very welcome. And you don’t need to sign up again; I had a glitch in my email subscription service so I’m moving to MailChimp, but my list will be transferred, so you should get the emails again starting with my next post.
      I hope your boyfriend likes Bird Box! Please do let me know what he thinks. 🙂

  • Carie Juettner

    AAAAA! Kudos to you, Annie, because this book review scared me! And made me want to read Bird Box. And sort of made me NOT want to read Bird Box because it sounds terrifying. But I’m still putting it on my to-read list. Maybe I’ll save it for October. Two things you should know: I *love* Cassandra Campbell’s audio books. She narrated Plain Kate by Erin Bow and did such a great job with the voice of the talking cat that now I hear every cat’s voice in my head as her voice. Also, I have your hug/ shin kick/ hand shake/ run away scene playing in my head in an endless loop. Hilarious! 🙂

    • Now that’s a first! I’m honored, truly. 😉 I am all aflutter to hear what you think. I’m amazed that you know the narrator. That never occurred to me, I guess because I’m newer to audio books. I would definitely listen to her reading something else, though (even something with a talking cat, haha). I’m glad it amused you. Now let’s just hope Mr. Malerman has a good sense of humor!

  • Katy

    Haha, I know that feeling. I read so many books that I wish I had written! 🙂

    • It’s a mixed bag of tricks! On one hand, of course, it sucks. But on the other, I’m so glad I got to READ it, not to mention that it helps clarify the direction I want my own writing to go. Oh, well. 🙂