Series: Solitary Tales #4
Published by David C. Cook on January 1, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense, Speculative, Young Adult
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His Rebellion Will Soon Turn to Hope When Chris Buckley first encountered the mysteries of creepy Solitary, North Carolina, he had little idea how far he would fall into the town’s shadows. After losing the love of his life, Chris tried to do things his way. He hunted answers. Then he gave up trying to find them. But now Chris comes back to Solitary knowing there’s a purpose for his being there. As he watches his place in a twisted and evil bloodline become clear, Chris waits for the last battle—and wonders who will be left when he finally makes his stand. The fourth and final book in the Solitary Tales shines light into deep darkness as Chris’s journey to Solitary comes to a dramatic close.
Travis Thrashers’ Solitary Tales is the story of Chris Buckley and the outright horrors he encounters when he moves with his mother to her hometown of Solitary, North Carolina. Those of you who had followed along know the story. Through Solitary and Gravestone, the questions and mystery mounted. A few answers were given and a major change happens in Temptation, but it’s really here in Hurt where that change takes effect.
Chris Buckley is back in Solitary. Back to face whatever evil it is that the whole town seems involved in. Back to face Marsh and Staunch and the specter of great-grandpa Kinner. Back to high school with all of its problems. But this time Chris is different. Thoroughly broken through the events of the first three books, he has finally turned to God in order to save him from Solitary and find him some answers.
He goes back into life-as-usual pretty easily. His romance with Kelsey is rekindled, to his excitement and consternation. He doesn’t have a good track record with girls—they end up gone or dead. But soon the evil of Solitary finds him once again.
Hurt is the story of a lonely boy with a newfound faith struggling to overcome great evil while making sense of what faith means and how to incorporate it into his life. Shouldn’t all his troubles be gone? Shouldn’t he be able to easily defeat evil now? And how is he supposed to handle his relationship with Kelsey?
I love that after Chris has his come-to-Jesus moment at the end of Temptation, Hurt isn’t all sunshine and roses. Faith is sometimes hard, evil is real, and it has to be dealt with. The Christian faith doesn’t remove evil, instead it gives us strength to walk through it. And yeah, it’s okay to doubt and be scared—just persevere. Thematically, that point really stood out to me is something readers would do well to remember.
Hurt was also a book of answers. The mannequins, the animals, Iris, the Kinner family secret…it’s all here. My one criticism is that I wanted MORE. The mannequins, especially, seemed to only be a throwaway answer that I would liked to have seen further the plot. The climax came together nicely, with great buildup and an excellent twist. The denouement was just as powerful, closing in a very introspective manner. Thrasher’s first person writing throughout the series has lent itself to that, but here it is in fine form, able to clearly make a point without breaking narrative form.
Travis has again proven that he’s a great writer, capable of drawing readers into the emotion and feelings of the story. Hurt is a wonderful close to an outstanding series.
An Excursus on Solitary Tales as a Whole
But now for some ramblings…spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution. Hurt is one of those books that just has to be talked about. As someone who’s been with this series since day one, I’ve invested a fair amount of time reading, thinking, and talking about the Solitary Tales. There’s one aspect of Hurt that I found particularly inspiring and I felt the need to talk about it in this review. I recommend you finish reading Hurt before reading the next paragraph, and maybe after you do, let me know if your thoughts are the same.
I read the book about two weeks before writing this review. I delayed writing simply because I had to process everything. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Hurt. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it…I just wasn’t sure that it measured up to the previous three novels. Odd, considering it’s supposed to be the novel that ends triumphant. The ending of Solitary floored me. That book has left an indelible impression on me I’ll never forget, both as a reader and a writer. The middle books drew me into the story and put me directly into the shoes of Chris Buckley. So Hurt came with expectations. I wanted better answers, I wanted God to show up in grand fashion gloriously defeating evil, I wanted Chris to not be plagued by the same old problems. And I really didn’t get that. Neither did Chris. But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps life doesn’t answer every question (and perhaps Travis is planning a whole spinoff series on the creepy mannequins), perhaps God takes you through evil instead of around it, perhaps the Christian life is marked by struggle and the need for hope.
Maybe what Thrasher is trying to say is: this is the Christian life. Okay, so you probably haven’t experienced the extremes Chris has (if so, write a book about it) but the job of this type of fiction is to take things to their extremes, make a point of them, then distill them into pieces the reader can digest. Solitary Tales is very much a character study—emotion, mood, first person narrative, chapters of introspections, music selections—it all sets the tone of Chris’s life. This is Chris’s story, his journey through evil to faith, then learning to live with that faith.
In the Solitary Tales, Chris Buckley discovers that he is not alone. That’s there’s a God worth shouting about, a God that helps through the hurts. Taken that way, Hurt is the perfect way to end the Solitary Tales, but let’s remember that for Chris, it’s only a wonderful beginning. (Edit from 2019: And just perhaps you’re beginning to see that play out in some of Travis’s more recent books…and that’s all I’ll say about that.)