'Misfits' by Hunter Shea is one of those stylistic cult classics in the making.
A horror folklore novel originating from a local legend about the Melon Heads, this is a wonderfully disturbing story that may even leave you feeling unsafe down those eerie, isolated roads that most small towns have hidden away.
Though folk tales of the melon heads in general have roots in a handful of states, Shea credits Michigan lore for his story. Despite that inspiration, he focuses around the mythical street, Dracula Drive.. which is part of the Connecticut-based legends.
Ultimately, the legends have a few things in common. They're nearly always a revenge story and even if they don't begin that way, they often evolve into it at some point. Likewise, the melon heads typically have large, bulbous heads and misshapen bodies, a tendency to feral behaviors, and a fondness for forested areas with lonely roads. All things the recipe for this type of creepy horror might need.
Set in the 90's grunge era, the plot follows a group of high school friends who are arguably already outcasts. They're stoners, some of which have pretty horrible family situations and really only each other to count on. They exist mostly on the edges of society, sometimes they're a bit vicious even with each other, but they also have a bond. They look out for one another.
When one of their friends suffers a brutal sexual assault, refusing to report it out of fear of humiliation, the group decides to handle things themselves. They get the idea into their heads that the melon heads might be real and that maybe they're the answer to their problem.
Up front, this is a rough story and it opens with a bit of a bang. If you're sensitive to violence or sexual assault, gory scenes, or easily frightened, it might not be the book for you. That being said, if none of those things is a trigger for you and you're looking for a good horror tale, look no farther.
Interestingly enough, the character I didn't really think I was going to like.. Mick, won me over. Don't get me wrong, he's not a nice guy. There's no question about that. But he absolutely has justifiable reasons for being who he is.. and what he lacks in kindness and what most would call.. general morality.. he more than makes up for in loyalty and fierceness. I ended up really feeling bad for him actually and rooting him on.
The girls, Marnie and Heidi, are also incredibly close. It was nice two see a couple of female characters that genuinely cared about one another and would go to whatever lengths to help each other. They held each other up, rather than letting the need to compete drag them both down.
Rounding out the boys, Chuck and Vent are actually both kind of sweethearts. Chuck is a big kid with a bright future and a good head on his shoulders. Right from the start, I found myself what had really even drawn him to the group.. but it was easy to see what made him stay.
Atmospherically, it's very heavy. Shea did a great job of conveying the constant dread the group was suffering as the story moved along, the toll it took in that bone-deep exhaustion of too much fear and not enough time to recuperate, and there are some very unnerving scenes.. not all of which are even due to the melon heads themselves. I'm telling you, Mick's circumstances are bad.
If you're a fan of films like Pumpkinhead, Jeepers Creepers, or The Hills Have Eyes.. you're going to love this book. I know I did. It's definitely going to be in the running for best pure horror title of the year for me. We'll have to see if anything can beat it.. I have serious doubts.