Once upon a time, I received a box in the mail whose contents were a special surprise. That box contained what would become one of my favorite modern thrillers: The Boys are Back in Town by Christopher Golden. I was riveted from the start, and stayed in one spot until the last page. That should tell you plenty, for rarely am I still. Years later, I befriended Courtney Summers, an author in her own right, and introduced her to the works of Golden. After she read a couple of his books, we couldn't stop talking about them, which lead to this roundtable discussion of Boys. But first, here are our individual reviews of the book:
From Little Willow's review:
What adult hasn't wondered what life would be like if things had been different in high school, and what teen hasn't wondered what they'd do when they grew up? Take those questions, those ideas, and darken them, then insert the twists of tragedy and forgotten (or altered) memories, and you've got The Boys are Back in Town by Christopher Golden. When Will attends his ten-year reunion, he expects to catch up with old friends, not discover that one is dead. The victim is someone with whom he recently communicated, yet everyone else claims died in high school. In the blink of an eye, Will remembers the event, yet retains his 'regular' memories as well. As the story continues, more memories are revealed. These aren't suppressed memories, but rather new-old memories. Altered memories. Someone or something is changing the minds of Will and his old friends. Finding the source - and the strength to stop it - will lead him on an imaginative journey readers will always remember.
From Courtney's review:
I don't know how much I can say about the plot without giving everything away. So just read the description on GoodReads and then come back.
Okay. Isn't that a cool plot description? I KNOW. The Boys Are Back in Town is my second Christopher Golden book, the first being his YA zombie book, Soulless. In both books, Golden takes something I'm not crazy about (talking zombies in Soulless and magic in Boys) and then incorporates it into a story in such an awesome and entertaining and compelling way, he forces me to give him a pass. This is a big deal, especially if you know how much I hate talking zombies (Ihatethemsomuch). My ire for magic is less fiery in my heart, BUT STILL. It is enough so that my loving this book unreservedly is a feat. And I loved this book! I really enjoyed it.
It's just GOOD. I wish I had read it in October. The book is set IN October and he just nails the crunchy-dead leaves, creepy/cozy feeling so well that I wanted it to be October while I was reading. Such perfect atmosphere. I love that kind of atmosphere and seek it out in horror movies all the time, so if you are into that kinda vibe you should check out this book.
Psst . . . Before we get to the roundtable, we wanted to tell you that Christopher Golden's newest book is out today! Look for The Waking: Dreams of the Dead in YA Fiction - and look in the Rs, not the Gs! This thrilling series is being published under a pseudonym: Thomas Randall. But we didn't tell you that...
Now, on to the roundtable book discussion:
It's an adult novel but I think it has crossover appeal because it's set in two different times--an adult present and a teenage past. Golden really nails how the petty problems of high school can quickly become exacerbated to the point that people make SCARY choices that they can't take back. You just see the snowball effect happening and you totally understand it and you're like agggh nooo this is awful turn back turn back now agggh and everything gets steadily worse for the characters but it is impossible to stop reading because you have to see how it continues to unfold and is (hopefully) resolved. And the nostalgia laced throughout the novel is also something that's dead on... we all feel that wistfulness for youth as we get older. It's articulated very, very well in these pages.
The final showdown was very BIG and DRAMATIC, which I'm not sure I was expecting or at first wanted, but enjoyed nonetheless (maybe "enjoyed" is the wrong word because it was horrific but... yeah, okay, I enjoyed it). And the epilogue made me sad and the final page made me go gah (not a bad gah). Hm. I am trying so hard not to give anything away... I read ahead to see who was responsible for the terrible and fantastical going-ons (bad Courtney) but even that didn't prepare me for some of the twists and turns getting there. It was just a great ride.
Reading Christopher Golden kind of reminds me of reading some of my favourite mystery/sci-fi/thriller/suspense teen novels when I was younger, books I still love to this day. More specifically, his books remind me of the FEELING I got when I read them. Both times I've picked up a Christopher Golden novel, I just felt totally assured I was going to be entertained and the writing was going to be solid and I was going to be told an excellent story and it would be worth my time. Both times it was. He's a fantastic storyteller is all. This is definitely not going to be the last book I read by him. And given his catalogue, I am going to have fun choosing which one is next!
And now, without further delay, our roundtable discussion of The Boys are Back in Town by Christopher Golden:
LW: This is my favorite book which employs time travel. It is also one of my favorite books written by Golden, which is saying a lot, considering 1) how much I love his books and 2) how many books he's written. (Over 100!)
CS: I was introduced to Christopher Golden by you, Little Willow -- you recommended Soulless to me because of my penchant for zombies and I LOVED Soulless so much, I asked for further Christopher Golden recs! You came back to me with a list (if I am remembering correctly) and The Boys Are Back in Town immediately caught my eye. I loved the idea of a book centered around a high school reunion, creepy time-shifts, the whole deal. It just was really compelling. So I chose that to read! And then took my sweet time reading it. Which I regret now. Because when I finally did... AWESOMENESS.
LW: Simply put: Told you! In all seriousness, though, I am so happy to share his books with you, and so happy that you genuinely loved Soulless and The Boys are Back in Town.
CS: I am properly shamed. They were both fantastic. I think he's a genuine storyteller. You know you're in for a treat.
LW: I think highly of Golden's storytelling abilities.
CS: Can I just say -- I thought Will was a fabulous protagonist. He was genuine and it was interesting how you had to trust him even though you definitely couldn't trust his memories. You felt very 'there' with him.
LW: I think Will is swell. He was a reliable narrator whose memories were unreliable. He wasn't at all an unreliable narrator in the 'classic' sense. He could not help when things changed, not at first, and he had to figure things out, just like the reader did. I agreed that you felt right there with him, and that you felt for him. I think people who liked The Time Traveler's Wife and the television series The Dead Zone will definitely like this book. In The Dead Zone TV show, Anthony Michael Hall's version of Johnny Smith had episodes in which his visions played tricks on his mind, and I couldn't help but think that he and Will could relate to one another.
CS: I never saw The Dead Zone TV series, sadly! But I can see how people who dug it would totally dig Boys.
LW: Oh, you should watch it. I think you'd enjoy it. I certainly did.
CS: Back to Will's unreliable memories -- one of my FAVOURITE scenes in the book was when he was talking to Ashleigh and she just... changes! Just like that.
LW: I love that moment!
CS: I am so petrified of giving anything away, but it's such an awesomely chilling moment. Someone has messed with the past in that exact moment and Will watches it happen on her face.
LW: Such a great scene. It shows that things really can change in the blink of an eye.
CS: It really gives it a sense of urgency. Nothing changes all at once, but in increments that become steadily more devastating to Will and the people around him (even though they don't know it). I just loved that part. I could pick up the book right now and reread it. So good.
LW: This discussion is making me want to re-read it right now! Who was your favorite character, other than Will? Mine was Ashleigh. I liked her the instant that she was introduced, and how Golden described Will and Ashleigh's lifelong friendship in Chapter One:
When Will was a kid, Ashleigh had literally been the girl next door.
She was his oldest friend, and he had never thought of her any other way.
Will’s parents had never had any other children, but in Ashleigh, he had a sister.
CS: I really liked Ashleigh as well. She was so genuine and likeable. I also loved the guys. Brian, Nick -- especially the dynamic they had when they hung around each other. I liked the section of the book through Dori's eyes when she was cursed because I felt bad for her even though she's... not very nice. What did you think of Kyle? I would get frustrated by his standoffishness but then I really liked those brief moments where he was willing to listen and was amazed at what was going on around him.
LW: I thought it was a really neat idea to not only meet the people who lived in Will's old house now, but to involve someone in the story from there on out - and to have it be a teenage boy was perfect! It was a way to involve someone new and to compare this generation to Will's generation, not to mention finding that note and the book - such crucial pieces to the puzzle.
CS: The moment when Kyle gave Will the note gave me chills. What did you think of Golden's take on magic? I really liked how dark and grim and possible it was. As I said in my review, I am not a big fan of magic (okay with a few exceptions like Harry Potter) in fiction, but it worked for me in this novel. I loved when Will and Brian were trying to upstage each other in the ice cream shop. It seemed exactly like what a couple of teenage boys who had come into this extraordinary power would do.
LW: Golden's use of magick in this and other novels, such as The Gathering Dark, is the stuff that dreams - and blockbuster films - are made of: imaginative, powerful, and "ooh"-worthy. I very much like the fact that his characters suffer consequences as a direct result of their actions, be they domestic or magical. There's a cost. There's some semblance of justice as well as the randomness and unfairness of life - the good guys don't always win, much less always live. The magick book Will and the others handle in this particular story gave me chills. I could see that and sense its heaviness, its darkness. And yes, ice cream can be evil.
CS: I will never look at orange soda the same way again. I read ahead to the end (I am awful) and even though I knew who was responsible for what had happened before I finished, the book still managed to surprise me in places. Did you read ahead? And if you didn't -- since I can't answer this question -- did the identity of the antagonist surprise you? Was it what you expected and were you satisfied? It satisfied me. I could understand that particular character carrying that kind of hurt and letting it get majorly out of control, because they had been drawn so well.
LW: I did not read ahead. I read it cover to cover. I was surprised by the antagonist's identity in a good way: I wasn't wholly expecting it, but it made complete sense, and everything fell into place when that identity was revealed. Everything could be explained. At what point in the story did you read the ending? Just curious. (I had a friend who read the book jacket summary first, then flipped to the last page and read that next - yes, she read the last page before reading the first page! - because she wanted to know if the book had a happy ending.)
CS: I was about close to halfway through when I peeked ahead. I couldn't take the suspense! But it didn't really help me out in that department because each time that character appeared, it was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then it did. When I was reading Boys, I kept picturing it as a movie. Golden's writing is super cinematic. If you could cast any of the main characters in a movie version of the book, which actors would you pick? I kept picturing Will as Matt Damon because there was a reference to them looking the same. Ashleigh looked like an older Ashley Greene in my head and... I'll just admit it: the Will-Matt Damon reference cemented Brian as Ben Affleck for me. :)
LW: When I read books, I tend to picture them as the author described, and try not to picture them as famous people. However, if my arm was twisted and I had the chance to cast this and could freeze actors at the proper ages (late 20s for most of the main characters, since this is their 10 year reunion to portray these characters), I would cast Megan Follows for adult Ashleigh, see if Kathryn Morris and Poppy Montgomery were available for another female roles, and hire Paul Rudd or Anthony Michael Hall to portray adult Will. If I was not able to magically make these actors 28 years old, then I'd call in all of the talented actors currently in their mid-to-late twenties or early thirties that I feel are underrated and underappreciated, like Larisa Oleynik, Matt Czuchry, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and others, to see who they could play. There are so many great parts to cast: Will, Ashleigh, Kyle, Nick Acosta, PixieGirl, Danny... Hey, what about a young Ron Howard for Kyle?
CS: ! Young Ron Howard for Kyle would be perfect. Do you think Boys would be the best introduction to Christopher Golden? I've only read two of his books so far (but there will be more read, mark my words!) and if I had to choose between Boys and Soulless as a CG intro, I'd choose Boys. I also think Boys has great crossover appeal. Teens would like it too. What are your top three Golden recommendations for people who have never read him before?
LW: He's written for so many different audiences, and in so many genres, that it's easier for me to make top picks based on main plot element and genre. I think Boys makes for a great introduction to his writing, as does Soulless (zombies! road trips! pop stars!) and The Gathering Dark (vampires! apocalypse! mages!) Those two novels are more action-based than Boys, but, like I said before, The Gathering Dark also deals with dark magick. Strangewood, which is a story within a story, is also in my top five standalone* Golden books. (By standalone, I mean a title not in a series.) I also think The Ferryman and Straight on 'til Morning are also great standalone reads, especially for those looking for stories that twist something with which they are familiar - the Greek myth of the ferryman Charon, and the story of Peter Pan and Never Never Land, respectively. For those who want something non-fantastical, I highly recommend the Body of Evidence murder mystery series. There are ten books in that line, so make sure that you read them in order, starting with the first book, Body Bags. I greatly enjoy the Prowlers quartet, which includes shapeshifters and ghosts. The good guys vs. bad guys action-packed scenes are simply awesome.
CS: I think I'm definitely going to be trying The Ferryman next. Now, I am a big cover freak (although this makes me far from an expert) so that brings me to my next question. What do you think of the cover? I think it really fits. I love the blurring faces and the title placement.
LW: I agree that the cover fits it. Memories get blurry...
CS: If you could pick one song to go with this book, which would you pick? (No picking the obvious choice!) My pick is Jill Tracy's Pulling Your Insides Out. Especially certain pieces of the lyrics: Baby know your nemesis / he's posing as your best friend / don't believe the newspapers / they're telling lies again. And it's really moody and evocative and mysterious, just like the book! Natch.
LW: I am not familiar with that song nor the singer. Thanks for the link! I immediately go to Duncan Sheik songs for this. He's one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and I feel that his vocals and lyrics in the song Time and Good Forture really fit the sense of loss, change, and regret Will experiences:
Singer, will the singing say it?
Singer, would such saying change it?
A whole long life spent tuning strings
And will it now mean anything
But empty chords that only bring
An endless, voiceless sorrowing
CS: That's a great choice. Speaking of choice, I love the role it plays in this novel. Particularly where the magic is concerned--to use it for good or for bad. If you had ever found a book as powerful as Will and Brian did, full of both fun and dark spells, do you think you'd choose to try them or do you think you'd walk away? The way the book of spells was described terrified me and I think I'd be leery of the vicious spells. I don't think I could use spells against someone. But! I would totally wanna try levitation.
LW: I would not try them because they could cause harm. Did you go to your high school reunion? I did not. Happily, I was otherwise engaged at the time - I was performing on stage, in a professional musical production.
CS: Yay! That's a good reason to miss out. :) I left high school to pursue my education independently. I don't think I was there long enough to the most out of something like a high school reunion (I'm not even sure if my graduating class has had one yet!) I think this book has forever made me afraid of high school reunions though. The potential mishaps that could occur. Especially if they involve time travel. Time travel freaks me out. Too many things can go wrong!
LW: I love the concept of time travel. I know that it could go horribly awry in practice, but I love the concept. I even have a booklist dedicated to it - which includes some movie titles as well, like Frequency, Somewhere in Time, and Donnie Darko. Have you seen any of those films? I read and enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife, so I hope the film version stays true to the book. I liked the movie Somewhere in Time much, much more than the book upon which it was based, Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson.
CS: I haven't seen any of those movies! Appalling, I know. I really want to see The Time Traveler's Wife, but I feel I must read the book first (which I also haven't done yet).
LW: Read it first. Read it first. Read it first.
CS: I shall! Okay, in six words or less, what do you think readers are in for when they pick up Boys? Here's mine: "Thrills, chills, and a good time."
LW: Nicely done. I'll name that tune in four notes: "Memories, magick, and murder."