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Sonja Ska Reviews, 4/11/2024


Boys in the Valley is one of those rare horror books that actually made me weary of reading it in the dark. Perhaps it's because the remnants of religious trauma have made me fairly susceptible to anything revolving around possession, but Phillip Fracassi molded that fear into an outright spark of terror. 


Let's get into the backdrop: an isolated orphanage that's taken in more boys than they can rightfully care for. Food is scarce, punishments are severe, and some unwavering folks have been tasked with keeping order. Peter, an older boy often seen protecting the young children, is on the cusp of deciding if he will become ordained or whether his teenage hormones will see him chase after earthly pleasures in the form of a farmer's daughter. However, his inner turmoil is interrupted when sheriffs bring an injured criminal to the orphanage, and something evil sneaks in with them. 


True to its gothic roots, Boys in the Valley offers slow-burn, creepy goodness instead of an outright bloodbath (although there's plenty of that, too). Fracassi takes his time with one, expertly setting up the atmosphere, characters, and a palpable tension that will leave you squirming. By the middle, you're almost begging for the first blood to spill to relieve the inescapable sense of dread that's built up inside your chest. And when the blood does begin to spill, it hemorrhages. Taking you into the world of 90s slasher, Fracassi isn't scared to get brutal. And after taking the time to make you genuinely feel for the characters, their deaths are heartbreaking. Before you know it, it's 3 am, and you didn't even realize it because you're so invested in seeing who makes it out alive come morning.  


One downside of possession stories is that they also tend to highlight the power of faith and the church. While you'll find those themes in this book, the evil in Boys in the Valley isn't one-dimensional. Yes, there are criminals and evil spirits, but corruption comes in various forms. This isn't a massive battle of good vs. evil. This is a realistic portrayal that everyone can be shitty, and evil can take many forms. 


If you're into possession, survival dynamics, and breakdowns in group dynamics, you'll probably have a really good time with Boys in the Valley.


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