Survive the Night

Being in the minority in book ratings always makes me feel a bit strange.  I stand by my positive review of this book, but it's always a little awkward.  However, I think that a lot of readers were expecting horror à la King or freakiness à la Hill, but what Danielle Vega gave us was an homage to the 90s teen slasher flick.

While The Merciless by Danielle Vega (reviewed here!) was a quick read, it was also silly and completely over-the-top.  Perhaps I wasn't in the proper mood for reading that kind of book when I read it.  I wondered if Vega was intending to write a straight, for lack of a better word, horror story.  The Merciless was an example of Trying Too Hard to Be Edgy and falling into C-list horror movie material.

Thankfully, with Survive the Night, Vega seems to have embraced the camp inherent in teen slasher films and books and just completely run with it.  And this totally worked for me.  I know, I know.  I'm kind of alone over here in the "this was ridiculously fun!" camp, but what's so wrong with having fun with teen slasher books?

The correct answer is: nothing!

While in The Merciless, Vega focused on a group of popular girls, here the pendulum swings the other way and examines the Outcasts.  Interestingly, in both novels, the friendships are completely toxic.  Girl-on-girl hate is everywhere, and staying out of The Plastics will not protect you from abusive friends.

Last year, star soccer player Casey blew out her knee in a game.  Afterwards, one of the nurse's daughters, Shana, stops in the hospital room.  Shana's one of Those Girls, the ones with Reputations (with a capital "R," no less).  She's edgy and dangerous and someone Good Girl Casey would never dream of hanging out with.  But Shana pushes Casey to the edge, and Casey feels more alive than ever.  The adrenaline high after taking stupid risks becomes just one of the things she gets addicted to--the other being painkillers.  A little oxy here, a little oxy there, and suddenly Casey's gone full-on Brett Favre.  She ditches her soccer friends and starts hanging with Shana and her crew, smoking pot, swigging Jack, and doing E.

Now before you get all, "Well, that wouldn't actually happen!" outraged on me: yes, it does.  It is so, so easy to think, "oh, prescription drugs aren't like 'real' drugs.  I can't get addicted."  And then boom.  You're in rehab.

And that's exactly what happens to Casey.  She doesn't remember the night that her boyfriend, Sam found her.  She does remember that he broke up with her, and that she still loves him.  After a couple of months' in rehab, watching girls with no teeth, girls with no hair, girls with ravaged skin detox and get clean, Casey still doesn't think that she was really one of them.  But now that label has been permanently tattooed onto her forehead: user.  Druggie.  Addict.  Rehab girl.  Sam doesn't want anything to do with her, and the pity slumber party at her old soccer friend's house is just supremely uncomfortable.

So when Shana drives up in her beater car, friends Julie and Aya in the backseat, Casey ditches and goes on a literal wild ride down to NYC for a night of clubbing that definitely doesn't end with plain old morning regrets.

A lot of reviewers got hung up on the poor choices made by Shana and the gang.  I've seen complaints that "Shana does Bad Thing!" and Casey still sticks with her.  Hello, that's how toxic relationships work!  I actually thought Shana was a really interesting character: she cares for Casey in a twisted way, but her life is only livable when she's on the edge of death.  Playing chicken on the highway, taking drugs, drinking a bottle of whiskey--it's like she's stabbing herself to make sure she doesn't go numb from the daily grind.  In a way, I kind of get it.  When she causes the pain, Shana's in control.  Does she do some really horrible things?  Heck yeah!  Would I want to be friends with her?  Heck no!

Anyway, so the night starts out pretty innocently.  Shana, Aya, Julie, and Casey end up at a teen club (i.e. no alcohol served) where Sam, Casey's ex, is playing with his band.  Also in the band is Woody, Sam's friend who also acts as part of a rap duo while dressed up like a cow.  In the land of YouTube craziness, I actually didn't find this strange at all.  There are worse things.  Casey's all like #awkward moments whenever Sam sort-of-but-doesn't-really look at her, because all she wants is the boy she loves.  At the club, this severely gross guy announces that there is going to be a Survive the Night rave that evening, and of course Shana's all over it.

Basically, Survive the Night is a lock-in with booze, drugs, dancing, and murder.  Well, the last part isn't advertised.  It's also held in a secret location, so the teens track it down through the streets of NYC and get help from a homeless guy who hears the streets singing.  Once you get into Survive the Night, you don't get out until the morning.

At first, the party's pretty normal for a clandestine, illegal, underage-catering rave in the abandoned subway tunnels of Manhattan.  Sam and Casey slowly begin to reconnect, and it might be a pretty good night.  Oh, until Shana drugs Casey's soda and she starts having some serious hallucinations.  Staggering around the lower tunnels, trying to shake off the trip, Casey starts seeing some seriously freaky things.  Like the guy who led them to the party having a serrated claw sunk in his back.  *blink* No, nothing there.  Okay.  *blink*  Or the eviscerated body of one of her friends being gnawed on by a rat.  Now things got real--or did they?  *blink*  The body's gone, but Casey's convinced that Julie was lying there, and that someone killed her and ripped out her insides.  Getting back to the party, she grabs her friends and gabbles that they need to find Julie.  They humor her, knowing that she'd been drugged and the only way to shut her up would be to find Julie alive and probably stoned out of her mind.

Okay, so that plan doesn't go so well.  These old tunnels under New York can mess with your sense of direction real quick, and the teens find themselves on the wrong side of a gate separating them from the rave.  When the police show up and break things up, Casey and Company start running, trying to get out of the tunnels.  What they end up facing is way, way, way worse than a run-in with the police.

Abandoned NYC subway tunnels are one of my favorite horror settings.  They were used to great effect in Preston and Child's early Pendergast books (shout-out to my favorite, The Cabinet of Curiosities!).  When I was in NYC, I felt creeped out by being in the inhabited subway stations: the sight of two cat-sized rats copulating in the Chinatown station is something that is seared into my brain.  See also: the X-Files episode about the man-fluke living in the Newark sewers.  Underground tunnels and standing water are a recipe for monsters, and Vega definitely delivers monsters.

Again, I have read some complaints that the monsters aren't plausible.  Stop.  Think.  All monster movies are implausible, which is how we find them so much fun while simultaneously feeling a little freaked out.  Saying that the monster "doesn't make sense" is like criticizing an alien-contact movie because aliens "don't make sense."  It's part of the story.  What's the big deal?

And considering Pizza Rat's ignominious appearance on YouTube today, I'd be willing to be on some monstrous and intelligent creatures living below the current NYC subway tunnels.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a fast, fun, freaky read that embraces its silliness and runs with it, Survive the Night is just the thing.

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