Author: Dathan Auerbach
The memory is a funny thing. When you look back on your childhood, all that seems left are little fragments of memories. No one can rightly say they remember everything from their earlier years and in many cases it’s hard to tell if we’ve altered the truth to fit the kind of childhood we wish we had. Dathan Auerbach’s Penpal documents one man’s journey as he looks back at his past and tries to make sense of the strange events that took place following an innocent school project.
“…there was something about the way the trees twisted together in the dim light of the moon, as the wind rustled and whistled through them, that made it feel like a wholly different place than it was during the day.”
Was it a coincidence that the lights in my house flickered while I was reading this book? Maybe, but that didn’t make the chills running down my spine any less real. Penpal succeeded in a way that a lot of the more horror-inclined books that I read don’t. It freaked me out. In truth this book should come with a warning. Caution: will in all likelihood cause the reader’s skin to crawl, more commonly known as the “heebie-jeebies.”
The book starts off innocently enough. We’re introduced to this little kid who is going to participate in a penpal project at school. Each child releases a balloon with a note attached, explaining the project and hoping for a response to be sent to the school so the class can document how far the letters have traveled. After feeling deflated for weeks after no reply comes, an envelope arrives. Inside is a blurry Polaroid but no letter. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but let’s just say it isn’t the last photo this kid is sent and even though he is too young to see how unnerving this correspondence is getting, as a reader you feel the trepidation with certainty.
There are a few issues I had with this book. For example, some events that occur in the beginning would lead one to believe the protagonist is older than is stated and would probably make the scenario more believable if he was. There are a few questions I still have, but my own imagination make these mysteries horrifying enough. Despite a few minor issues, Dathan Auerbach’s Penpal is the probably the scariest book I’ve read in a long time. Like another horror book I read recently, I’ve made a list of rules, this one involves my future children.
Rules for my future children:
1. No playing in the woods behind our house.
2. No writing letters to complete strangers.
3. That blinking anklet Mommy put on you is going to stay on until you are eighteen.