Touched and Dead River, by Cyn Balog

Cyn Balog's standalone novels Dead River and Touched are the kind of stories that allow YA readers to dip their toes into the horror genre. They're disturbing enough to send the odd shiver up one's spine, but still guaranteed to come with a safely happy ending, making them an ideal choice for kids who aren't quite ready for, say, Stephen King.

Dead River is the story of 17-year-old Kiandra Levesque, who has kept away from open water ever since her mother drowned herself in the Delaware River ten years earlier. Determined to get over her aquaphobia, Ki skips prom to accompany her boyfriend on a river-rafting trip in rural Maine. But the moment she touches the shore odd things begin to happen—half-remembered (and hugely creepy) figures from her childhood turn up, there's a series of mysterious accidents, and a beautiful boy appears, full of vague-but-dire warnings about her safety.

In Touched, protagonist Nick Cross has been given a gift that's more like a curse: he can see his own future. He lives with a voice in his head that constantly directs his actions, providing him with a clear view of the rest of his life. It is possible to disobey the voice, but doing so leads to both pounding headaches and occasionally disastrous consequences, like when Nick goes “off-script” and chooses to save a girl's life. The girl turns out to be the love of Nick's life, but saving her meant that he wasn't around to save someone else...

Balog is a workmanlike writer with a talent for coming up with memorable plot hooks. Her novels obey their own internal logic, and her protagonists are easy to root for. Unfortunately, I had the same problem with Dead River and Touched that I did with all of her earlier books: they're too short. I'm not suggesting that Balog stuff her stories with loads of unnecessary filler, but her books consistently fall just short of a creating a genuinely memorable atmosphere, meaningful romance, or rewarding happily-ever-after. As it is, they're the kind of easily digestible horror-lite that slides down nicely on a summer afternoon—but a little more room to breathe could transform them into something amazing.

Reviews based on publisher-provided copies.
Posted by: Julianka


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