Image: Black and red illustration of a cornfield at night, with the rows of corn forming the shape of a malicious clown's face.

Young Adult Book Review: Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare


Synopsis

Quinn Maybrook just wants to make it until graduation. She might not make it to morning.

Quinn and her father moved to tiny, boring Kettle Springs to find a fresh start. But ever since the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory shut down, Kettle Springs has cracked in half. On one side are the adults, who are desperate to make Kettle Springs great again, and on the other are the kids, who want to have fun, make prank videos, and get out of Kettle Springs as quick as they can.

Kettle Springs is caught in a battle between old and new, tradition and progress. It’s a fight that looks like it will destroy the town. Until Frendo, the Baypen mascot, a creepy clown in a pork-pie hat, goes homicidal and decides that the only way for Kettle Springs to grow back is to cull the rotten crop of kids who live there now.


Details

  • Title: Clown in a Cornfield
  • Author: Adam Cesare
  • Cover Artist: Matt Ryan Tobin
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN: 0062854593
  • Publication Date: August 25, 2020
  • For Ages: 14+
  • Category: Young Adult
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.

I’d like to thank HarperTeen for providing an advance copy via Edelweiss+ in exchange for review consideration.


Review

Clown in a Cornfield is a fun, modern blend of horror and politics. Think The Burning meets a Gen Z Footloose, with a pointed message about the inevitability of social and political progress. When I picked this book up, all I knew about it was that it featured a creepy clown in a creepy cornfield, two horror elements I absolutely love. I was delighted to find so much more than that: a plot that surprised me, plenty of gore, teenage characters who talk and act like actual teenagers, and a harsh indictment of the “good old days.” Adam Cesare’s YA debut is both a suspenseful, scary slasher novel and a categorical rejection of the Making America Great Again ideology.

Though Cesare is clearly on the side of the kids in this blood-drenched generational clash, there is some nuance to his argument against going back to the good old days. The old guard identifies the Internet (and social media in particular) as one of the reasons that the new generation is “a blighted crop,” and though Cesare doesn’t agree with this assessment, neither does he shy away from the dark side of social media. The prologue depicts a live-stream gone horribly awry and suggests that some social media personalities/influencers are indeed selfish jerks who cause more harm than good.

On the whole, the book suggests that the Internet allows people to be more open-minded and helps marginalized folks gain acceptance and find community. However, it also acknowledges that the Internet can narrow people’s worldview, breeding extremists and bigots who unironically use words like “cuck” and “snowflake.” Ultimately, the book shows a guarded optimism about the future, suggesting that most of the kids are all right but cautioning that danger (often in the form of a desire to hold on to the status quo) constantly lurks in corridors of power.

The sociopolitical message—one that is decidedly pro-science, pro-inclusivity, and pro-progress—stays close to the surface, but Cesare never loses sight of the horror in his bloody story. This is, after all, a book about a killer clown in a cornfield. The gore will satisfy slasher fans who want to see some people get mowed down by shotguns and chainsaws, and the suspense will keep you reading late into the night. I haven’t said much about the plot because this is a ride I want you to take on your own; there are some great twists and thrilling set pieces that deserve to remain unspoiled. Funny, smart, and grisly, Clown in a Cornfield was everything I wanted and more—it’s bloody good YA horror.


Rating

Creepy clown + creepy cornfield = 4.5 out of 5 coffins.

4.5 Coffins


 

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