We often talk about how terrifying or unsettling horror novels can be, but we rarely talk about how incredibly enjoyable—and sometimes warm—read they can be.
Celso Hurtado ghost tracks is a wonderfully entertaining YA horror novel that combines true San Antonio legend with classic elements of YA stories – like growing up, first love, violence and crime – to tell a story of friendship that explores the possibility of the supernatural.
Erasmo Cruz lives with his grandmother. His father died of an overdose and his mother deserted him. He has only one friend, a strange boy named Mouse. Erasmo desperately needs money to help treat his grandmother’s cancer. After brainstorming with the Rat, Erasmo decides to use his knowledge of the paranormal – something he and the Rat have in common – to help people and make a little money. Erasmo had a meeting at Ghost Tracks, a place in San Antonio where the spirits of children who died in a horrific bus accident are said to help others stuck on rails, and Ratt believes this might bring in customers. Erasmo and Ratt answer some emails after placing an advertisement offering their services and soon find themselves involved with a suspected killer, a young woman whose younger brother may be possessed, and a religious fanatic convinced that God is showing him the future so he can stop him. Bad things from happening.
ghost tracks It inhabits the void between YA stories and adult literature full of horrific things. The way Hurtado writes about loneliness, insecurity, budding love, and friendship makes this novel ideal for a YA audience. However, the corpse under the bed, the man whose face has been smashed with a bat, and the child who may be possessed or a victim of abuse make this book a book for fans of the deadliest and gruesome side of the genre. Regardless of their age.
Hurtado does a few things really well here. For starters, he understands that horror fails in the absence of empathy. Erasmo loves three things in life: his grandmother, drinking milk, reading from his favorite book, A Practical Guide to the Supernatural and the Paranormal: The Writings of John F Dubois. He’s a lovable kid who’s got the hand of a squad, and it’s impossible not to root for a young man trying to help his ailing grandmother, a wise woman who watched a lot and reminded him to “make sure you never forget what’s in your blood.” Hurtado also knows that not giving up everything is the best way to keep readers hooked on the story. Things like Erasmo’s other experience in Ghost Tracks, the mystery of all that’s wrong with the kid who’s asked for help, and the many questions surrounding both the murder of a young woman and the man claiming to see the future are more than enough to do just that because the author keeps us guessing by revealing About things in separate parts.
One of the most interesting things about this book is Erasmo’s relationship to the paranormal. He’s obsessed with it and gets exposed to things that would make anyone a believer, but he’s always skeptical. For example, he believes that the only thing a possessed child needs is psychological help. He’s also convinced that one of the men he’s trying to help is a killer and not a haunted victim, and is sure that Billy, a man who sees the future, only suffers from a mental illness:
“All he knew was that every bit of his leads told him that Billy could not have seen. Perhaps it was his inherently violent nature. Or perhaps it was his constant references to his supposed ability, surely he was a true messenger of a God who would be humble and disciplined. Or perhaps it was That’s how Billy seemed to enjoy so much at whatever atrocity was about to happen. Whatever the reason, his bones were screaming at him that it couldn’t be right.”
And with everything going on in this book, Hurtado also finds time to talk about each other. Erasmo is a brown child, and he realizes this painfully whenever he talks to the authorities. He is also poor, and his despondency over his grandmother’s illness and complete lack of opportunity is linked to his socioeconomic background and the absence of his parents.
Horror is sometimes related to the joy of asking “what if?” in a ghost tracksHurtado asks this question in every chapter, then offers answers that dance between “Of course it’s all true!” And “there’s no way for any of this to be even remotely real.” This retreat is awesome, and it’s a wonderful reminder that one of the best things about horror fiction is its ability to twist our guts like riding a rollercoaster and make us ask for more.
Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer, and professor who lives in Austin, Texas. You can find him on Twitter at Tweet embed.