YA Review: Harrow Lake

Title: Harrow Lake
Author: Kat Ellis
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 3/5

I don’t normally read horror, by when I read the first couple of chapters of ‘Harrow Lake’ in the 2019 Penguin Box Set YA sampler, I was hooked. After a brief scene-setting chapter, the story begins with a shocking discovery – the narrator discovers her film-director father stabbed and bleeding in his New York office, hours before they are supposed to be moving to France. Lola is sent to stay with her grandmother in the town of Harrow Lake while her father is in hospital, and finds herself trying to make sense of the setting for his most famous film.

‘Nightjar’ is a film with a cult following. Filmed in Harrow Lake, the production was famous for the mysterious disappearance of a cameraman, and for the local actress – Lola’s mother – who went on to marry the director. Lola’s mother played the lead role in the film, but she’s been missing for years. Lola looks just like her mother, especially when she tries on the costumes from the film that she finds in her grandmother’s house. Soon after her arrival, Lola discovers that the annual ‘Nightjar’ festival is about to begin, and fans of the film will be heading to Harrow Lake for parades and events based on their favourite horror movie.

The narrator’s experiences in Harrow Lake become more creepy and unsettling, the longer she stays in town. The residents introduce her to their superstitions about the town, the woods, the caves, and her father’s film. A series of unnerving events forces Lola to question her own memory, and the sanity of the people around her.

Lola is an interesting narrator. She’s not particularly likeable – she’s the spoiled teenage daughter of a rich and famous film director. Her father keeps her out of the spotlight and expects her to follow him around the world as he makes his movies. She’s understandably curious about Harrow Lake, and about anything she can find out about her mother, but she doesn’t listen to the warnings from the residents about going into the woods, or into the caves.

There are plenty of horror elements in the story – spooky puppets and dolls, toys that belonged to Lola’s missing mother, unexplained events, and the chills that go along with exploring the setting of a horror film in the dark. It’s YA appropriate, but if you’ve watched any horror films you’ll be familiar with the ideas in the book. The creepy atmosphere is very well crafted, and there’s a constant sense of something being not quite right with the town and the people Lola meets.

There’s a great twist at the end of the book, and a punch-the-air moment as the story comes together – but it’s not quite enough to give a satisfying conclusion to Lola’s experiences. I’m giving the book three stars, because there are plenty of events that remain unexplained, and I would have liked to learn more about the strange events in Harrow Lake. I can’t help thinking that everything that happens to Lola is connected, and it was frustrating to find that these connections are not entirely explained. Horror fans will probably disagree!

Have you read Harrow Lake? Did you find it scary? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

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