"Ghoul" by Brian Keene
Reviewed by Tracy Satterlee
It's the summer of 1984, and Timmy is looking forward to hanging out with his two best friends, Doug and Barry.
For Timmy, the summer is pure fun, while for Doug and Barry spending time with Timmy means a respite from their home lives. When Doug's mother drinks, she tries to seduce young boys, including her son. When Barry's father drinks, he beats Barry mercilessly.
Still, the three best buddies are able to leave their worries behind and revel in being boys in the summertime. Little do they know that it's not going to be a carefree summer—something has been set free in the local graveyard, and it has a taste for human flesh and the desire to breed.
For the boys, the thought of hunting the ghoul is a grand adventure out of one of their beloved comic books. And, really, the ghoul isn't much more terrifying than their abusive parents. At least they can attempt to fight the ghoul, or run from it, but they're trapped with their parents. Of course the adults (even the decent ones) don't believe it when the boys tell them there's a ghoul on the loose, despite multiple disappearances and the fact that the graveyard is sinking into underground tunnels, so it's up to the boys to Fight the Evil.
Somehow, even amid the human and supernatural strife, the author captures the joys of childhood summer. There are a lot of pop cultural references to the 1980s, but whether they're successful at establishing the feel of the time is dependent on the reader's experience. For example, Timmy watches the cartoon "Thundarr the Barbarian," which might bring a smile of recognition. (In my case, my younger brother was a huge Thundarr fan) However, if the name Thundarr is unfamiliar, the reference is completely lost, and that's the case with most of the 80s music, video games, and shows that are name-checked.
Ultimately, the focus is much less on the ghoul and more on the bond between the boys. Fans of "Stand by Me" and similar coming-of-age stories should certainly give it a try.