Scream All Night. Derek Milman. Harperteen. Release date: 24th July 2018.
DARIO HEYWARD KNOWS ONE THING. He’s never going back to Moldavia Studios, the iconic castle that served as the set, studio, and home to the cast and crew of dozens of cult classic B-horror movies. It’s been three years since Dario’s even seen the place, after getting legally emancipated from his father, the infamous director of Moldavia’s creature features.
But then Dario’s brother invites him home to a mysterious ceremony involving his father and a tribute to his first film–The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue. Dario swears his homecoming will be a one-time visit. A way for him to get closure on his past–and reunite with Hayley, his first love and costar of Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun, a production fraught with real-life tragedy–and say good-bye for good. But the unthinkable happens–Dario gets sucked back into the twisted world of Moldavia and the horrors, both real and imagined, he’s left there.
With only months to rescue the sinking studio and everyone who has built their lives there, Dario must confront the demons of his past–and the uncertainties of his future. But can he escape the place that’s haunted him his whole life?
Thank you to Harperteen for providing with a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Scream All Night is one of the most original YA contemporaries I have ever read. I really didn’t know what to expect going into this novel; for some reason, all the references to paranormal horror in the blurb had me thinking there were going to be paranormal elements to the story, and that they were going to be super-cheesy. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. The categorisation of this novel as dark comedy works pretty well for me, because the writing finds humour in unexpected places, yet balances this humour with its darker exploration of abuse and neglect, which hit me hard with feelings.
The setting of this novel was so unique and like nothing I have come across in fiction. Moldavia Castle, Dario’s childhood home, and the home of his father’s movie studio, felt like a character in its own right. I loved meeting all of the quirky characters who lived there, exploring all of the atmospheric rooms where set-pieces were built, and reading about all of the weird and wonderful costumes and props used in the productions. I loved hearing about the stories of each of the movies the studio made, and what was going in real life behind the scenes (though some of it was extremely emotional and hard to read).
All of the cast and crew living and working at Moldavia felt like one great big complicated family, and so many interesting relationships were explored in this story. I liked that the movie studio acted as a home for so many people; they were all misfits who had found a place they truly belonged in Moldavia. In contrast, it was interesting to see Dario struggling to decide if he really did belong there.
The thing I loved most about this novel was the characterisation. Dario, our protagonist, felt so real to me, and reading about everything he went through at the hands of his father made me really hurt for him. I’ve never read a story where a character has been emancipated from their family, and it was both interesting and heartbreaking to learn about how Dario ended up in that situation. Dario goes on a complicated emotional journey as he returns to Moldavia, and I think his conflicting feelings of loyalty to the people he loves, but fearfulness of the past they force him to confront, were written very well.
I also loved Dario’s narration, because there was so much comedy in his depiction of the people surrounding him. I felt that, through Dario, Derek Milman achieved the perfect balance between mocking his characters and making us feel wholeheartedly for them. The character he does this best with is Oren, Dario’s older brother. Oren is, to be honest, a massive douche for most of the book, and for a long time he reads like an object of pure satire. He’s intent on producing a film he has written about a demonically possessed patch of cauliflowers (‘The Ciller Cauliflowers’, and yes spelling Killer with a C is deliberate), but nobody can convince him it’s a terrible idea, because he only hears what he wants to hear. The glimpses we get to read of the script are laugh out loud hilarious, and they made me almost love Oren, even when he was being a selfish asshole. However, the further we go into Dario’s story, the more vulnerability Oren reveals to us, and we get to know him on a level I never expected, as Dario does. I loved the development of this sibling relationship, which starts off on extremely rocky, resentful ground.
There is a romance in the novel, and it was sweet, but it wasn’t my favourite aspect of the story. Because Hayley is supposed to be Dario’s first love, we don’t get much build up to their relationship. It just kind of picks up where it left off when Dario left Moldavia, so we don’t get a sense of when and how they fell in love; it feels more like it has always been this way. I didn’t totally buy into their romantic feelings for each other, although I did get a sense of closeness and a family kind of love, and I think their relationship could have easily been portrayed as a strong, close friendship and had the same impact.
All in all, I found this novel entertaining, and emotionally gripping, and I couldn’t help but root for Dario to find his path forward. If you want a book with funny but complex characters, which explores complicated family relationships, in a unique and interesting setting (and why wouldn’t you want that?!), I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.