While each experience is unique, all of us have dealt with grief at some point in life. It’s an inevitable, painful part of our existence, and lays a seriously effective foundation for a horror story.
Because grief is a universal aspect of the human condition, it’s easy to empathize with the characters in The Headless Boy. Most readers can relate to the main characters on some level. We all know how grief can make people behave differently, and understand its impact on relationships. Even the most sensible people can become unhinged by the emotions within the grief process, especially in the beginning stages.
This novel gripped me from the beginning, when Maggie and Jake are introduced in the midst of emotional turmoil. The feeling quickly switches from joy to sorrow, and draws the reader in with empathy for their situation. Despite never suffering the loss of a child, I was able to relate to the emotions that were part of their grief process. Aside from the sad moments, the happier moments still shared between the couple in the midst of the depression were very realistic. Owen does an amazing job depicting the grief process and all of its peaks and valleys.
This book was a great read for me due to many factors—the first of which is that it’s a story with heart. Without that authenticity and emotion, it just wouldn’t be as gripping. Also, I love stories about haunted houses, especially when they start out as a quiet type of horror. The dread slowly grows until suddenly you’re hit with major unease and fright. That’s what happens in The Headless Boy. I love how there are subtle creepy things happening to Maggie in the beginning. Jake is unable to fully understand, as he is not able to see the boy’s ghost at the start. However, he witnesses the changes in Maggie and leaves it alone for the time being, in fear of causing more grief. Eventually as the events grow more sinister, Maggie’s mental health deteriorates further, and this takes a toll on their relationship. At this point, Jake can no longer deny that the evil within the house has a firm grip on his wife.
I never want to give away too many details, so let me just say that there are some truly creeptastic moments in this one. I don’t need those scary moments to make it a horror story, but I welcome being frightened with open arms. It happens so rarely for me that I get a huge thrill when I’m scared by a book or film. I love how the supernatural aspects gradually build and intensify throughout the story. I also enjoy how we’re able to see things from the viewpoint of both characters, thanks to strong descriptions of their inner thoughts and actions.
Can I also go off on a little (related) tangent and mention my love/hate relationship with evil children in books and on film? They make for some of the most memorable and sinister villains in my opinion. In this story, Bobby gives me the absolute creeps, pisses me off, and yet I also feel sorry for him. There’s something about manipulative, vindictive children (in ghost form or alive) that’s just not right. It’s probably because of the idea that kids are all innocent and often charming. To see them capable of malice is absolutely chilling.
After this read, I can say that grief horror is one of my favorite subgenres. It’s so relatable and effective when done right. The Headless Boy now ranks among some of my favorites in this category, alongside Pet Sematary and Remains. It has everything I look for in a well-developed story. Excellent pacing, dialogue, and character development. Can I also mention THAT COVER? It’s reminiscent of the vintage horror paperbacks we all covet, but the quality extends beyond the surface. Trust me when I say that this is more than just a cover buy.