A deadly game of hide and seek fails to get the blood running
Hide by Kiersten White Publisher : Del Rey; 1st edition (24 May 2022)
Language : English
Paperback : 240 pages
ISBN-10 : 0593499166
ISBN-13 : 978-0593499160
Book Review by Tony Jones
Kiersten White’s adult debut Hide is blessed with one of the most misleading by-lines I have read in years “The book you need after Squid Game” on its Amazon page. What complete and utter rot. If you buy this book on the back of enjoying the smash South Korean Netflix hit show then you will be deeply, deeply disappointed. All they have in common is the fact that they involve a secret game in which contestants are systematically eliminated, it’s obvious how the killing occurs in Squid Game and is a key ingredient of the mystery in Hide. However, whilst the games played in Squid Game are exceptionally clever, bloody, varied and imaginative, they are the exact opposite in Hide. All the fourteen contestants have to do is hide for long periods and that’s just about it, until something begins to go wrong. Is anybody bored already? I certainly was, and even though this was not a long novel (256-pages) it was a struggle to finish.
Kiersten White is an established YA horror and fantasy writer and previously won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for the decent The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein back in 2018. Although Hide is pitched as an adult novel I could not shake off numerous YA leanings and perhaps it would have been more successful if it was pitched at that teen audience where there are many similar novels in the same ballpark as this. Instead of having teens as the main characters White shifts up an age-group to the mid-twenties with a group who mostly behave like teens or are dissatisfied with the way their lives have panned out. As events moved on, especially in the closing sections, I was reminded of the popular 1990s YA Point Horror novels and found the ending rather ridiculous. In these types of novels their credibility comes from how the events are framed and this yarn came up short as the blend of thriller and horror failed to click or convince.
In replicating the style of those teen Point Horror novels, the opening pages give a major hint of what lies ahead, by recounting the history of an unnamed amusement park, dating back to 1953. However, jumping forward to the 1970s a little girl disappears and the reputation of the park was ruined and it closed shortly afterwards. Set in modern times, Hide is set in the same fairground which has been left to disintegrate and be reclaimed by nature in the decades which have followed its demise. One would have thought an abandoned fairground would have been an atmospheric location for a horror thriller, but the descriptions were as bland as the game the contestants played.
The plot is based around a simple challenge: spend a week hiding in an abandoned amusement park and don't get caught. The contestants hide for long periods whilst seekers look for them, with two players being eliminated every day. Of course, the competition is shrouded in mystery and there is no wi-fi for budding social media influencers trying to make a name for themselves. Instead, the group find themselves isolated in the middle of nowhere as it slowly dawns on them that things are not as they should be. However, the big cash prize stops the players working as a team, as there can only be one winner and money talks.
Another issue I had with Hide was that there were just too many characters. It did not jump between all fourteen, but the third person narrative featured around half of them, including their back stories and there were very few who were likable and others which were cliché riddled or were obviously carrying baggage or secrets. At various points I also struggled to keep track with who was who and it might have been more successful if it focussed on less characters. As events moved on the story did limit its focus to fewer characters and Mack, a homeless woman with a troubled past, becomes the most interesting and engaging.
Some readers might be surprised the direction the novel takes, but I found it difficult to take it seriously, especially as it was framed as a thriller. Also, the whole idea of hiding in a carousel for ten hours; how on earth can that be sold as ‘entertainment’ for the reader or the poor sucker doing the hiding? As I read Hide I found myself picking holes all over the place, which is never a good sign, and was equally unconvinced by the diary style flashbacks which occur at various points attempting to connect the past and the present.
Hide failed as both a horror and a thriller novel and might have been more successful if it had nailed its colours to one of the masts, instead of hedging its bets and trying to do both. As a thriller it was too ridiculous to be credible and as a horror novel it fell completely flat. Also on the Amazon blurb: “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” Neither was I sure about that line, which might scare a ten-year-old middle-grade reader, the problem being the book was not aimed at that demographic and was rather undemanding for its intended audience.