Book Review - Scream Site

Scream SiteScream Site by Justina Ireland
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I came across this title on a list of must-reads of 2018. I read the blurb and was excited to receive an Advanced proof copy from Netgalley.

The story follows 14-year-old Sabrina whose passion is journalism. She is preparing an application for an internship at the local online paper, but to send in a convincing portfolio she is on the search for a compelling story.

Said pursuit leads her to Scream Site, a website set up by a couple of horror directors for aspiring directors to upload their 'scary' videos and compete for a one-in-a-lifetime chance to go to Hollywood. There appears to be some kind of correlation between uploaders and missing girls, so Sabrina decides to investigate. She soon becomes embroiled in an apparent conspiracy that could lead to her sister's life being in danger.

The book blurb sounded exciting and I couldn't wait to get into this. Trouble is, the blurb did not mention our protagonist was only 14. I expected a credible, suspenseful tale, instead, my eyes were assaulted by some of the poorest writing I have come across. The authors tells us everything... and repeats it ad nauseum. We are given the facts of the case as often as we come across a 'previously on' recap in a television show - that is, in every single chapter. The majority of the 266 pages of the book were mostly copy-pasted from earlier chapters.

The central premise, so sensationally drawn out in the blurb, dwindles down to a little girl who no one will believe. Herein lies the biggest problem with the book's conceit - none of the adults believe Sabrina, and instead jump to a far-fetched assumption that suspends belief beyond stretching point. It was incredibly... for lack of a better word, stupid.

There are several narrative problems that aggravate the reader. Spoilers ahead for the book:

The website is about making the scariest video, but all the girls who participate are invariably the actors of said videos. How come? Why haven't they roped in their friends, who may do a better job and importantly, allow these 'aspiring filmmakers' to concentrate on making the film?

The only videos that appear to be uploaded are of girls being chased. Is that a pre-requisite for the competition? In which case the author should have let us know. Also, that would make this competition very sexist, and investigating that angle would have made this book far more interesting.

How is it possible that girls have gone missing for months, yet none of the cops investigate these or are, at the very least, alarmed enough to let people know. There's some page-long spiel about girls running away, but let's be honest, how many runaways can a small town have in the span of four months? It's obvious there haven't been that many runaways before, because none of the four 'runaways' Sabrina investigates are such, they are all part of the website scheme - internal logic suggests her Uncle John is the worst cop ever.

The writer equates a film-maker with an actor, and it irritates the hell out of me. They are not the same thing, and while many people can do both, that doesn't mean everyone can. Also, the author evidently knows nothing about films, because the only videos she mentions are chase videos and... well, she doesn't go into detail about technique so I'm not sure how different they all could possibly be.

The denouement is extremely rushed. The whole point of the entire book is to find out what happened to these girls. And, throughout, we are expecting Sabrina's sister Faith to get kidnapped, but that happens in the last 30 pages. Following which, the 'mystery' unravels. So, there was zero suspense.

Also, the 'mystery' was such a let down. It felt like the author wanted to write one particular book, but then realised the PG rating being slapped on it, so changed tact partway through. This is like the film 'Game Night', except without the self-aware humour.

Well done in maligning mental illness sufferers - in 2018 we certainly needed more of that. #Not. How can we possibly believe that Dan Parks, the villain, became so unhinged in the span of a year to suddenly go PG-rated Casanova from 'Kiss the Girls'. It doesn't take much to tip someone over, but they have to be on the cliff first. This is where characterisation would help, but the author eschews that for repetition. We know nothing about Parks, other than he made a convenient act 3 villain.

Because the writer does not paint a substantial picture of who these people are and what this town is like, we simply do not care about the characters. The villain isn't the only one without characterisation - everyone suffers the same fate. They are all plot points that move the story along.

There are many other niggling errors that make the entire reading experience terrible. Simple things like how a passionate lover of journalism conveniently doesn't know that two famous directors were going to shoot a film in her hometown and have set up an online website that is the talk of the town; or how a place she and her family used to visit all the time has been shut down, but neither Sabrina nor anyone in her vicinity doesn't knows about it; Sabrina knowing what kind of person Felicity (first victim) was like, when she doesn't know her; none of the characters checking Facebook or other social networks for information about the missing girls; why there are only missing girls? Much more, as well.

End spoiler.

Since this was a proof copy, it was rife with typos. I'm going to give it a pass for that, simply because I can't complain any more about the book.

Weak writing combined with tedious repetitions and worse, no story structure, make this a pointless read. This is what happens when you rely on internet recommendations and blurbs - they lie. Can I read the book the blurb talks about, because this one isn't it.

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