Review: The Cellar by A.J. Whitten

Title: The Cellar
Author: A.J. Whitten (Shirley & Amanda Jump)
Obtained: ARC obtained from publisher via netgalley (cover image obtained from publisher’s website)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: digital
Rating: 3.5/5
Release date: May 2011

Blurb (from the publisher’s website)

Meredith Willis is suspicious of Adrien, the new guy next door. When she dares to sneak a look into the windows of his house, she sees something in the cellar that makes her believe that Adrien might be more than just a creep—he may be an actual monster.
 But her sister, Heather, doesn’t share Meredith’s repulsion. Heather believes Adrien is the only guy who really understands her. In fact, she may be falling in love with him. When Adrien and Heather are cast as the leads in the school production of Romeo and Juliet, to Heather, it feels like fate. To Meredith, it feels like a bad omen. But if she tries to tear the couple apart, she could end up in the last place she’d ever want to be: the cellar. Can Meredith convince her sister that she’s dating the living dead before it’s too late for both of them?

On the Cover

I really like this cover. It gives the novel a kind of dark feel, and the hands at the bottom of the stairs is a really nice touch. The girl at the top (I’m assuming to either be Heather or Meredith) has a kind of peaceful look on her face, and she’s slightly smiling. It’s kind of hard to see in the small image on my review, but the high-res image on the publisher’s website shows this clearly. I can’t figure out if she’s trying to walk away from the door, or if she’s turning to head down into the cellar. The stone walls give the stairwell an old feeling, like the cellar leads back to older times when cellars really were lined with stone (as opposed to drywall). It’s a really nice cover, but the overall feel doesn’t fit with the story itself, a tragic love story, not a gothic horror.

My Thoughts

**Warning: there are spoilers for the novel below. Please don’t read this if you don’t want the book to be spoiled.**

This book was a very quick, enjoyable read. I cheered for Adrien until the final few pages; I liked him as a villain. He was everything I could want: cold, calculating, selfish. He turned his back on Marie for his own selfish gain, and like all villains, this blew up in his face. He is Romeo, if Romeo were sadistic and uncaring. I kept picturing Adrien as Zac Efron with darker hair, and I can’t figure out if this is what I was supposed to see.

Marie was even more a villain than Adrien. She was brilliantly written; capable of keeping her true strength hidden. She completely fooled Adrien into thinking she was weak and dependent.

Adrien and Marie, together, were quite a surprise. They were a sadistic pair, capable of torture without blinking. Of course, they’re walking dead, so I wouldn’t expect them to feel emotions like the living do. The scene where they eat the man hanging from their cellar ceiling was brilliant; had this been an adult novel, I would have expected description of bone breaking, the squishy flesh, the whole nine yards. Thankfully, since this is a young adult novel, the description was toned down a lot. The scene was more focused on Adrien’s torture and manipulation of Marie.

For me, Adrien and Marie made the novel. Meredith and her sister, Heather, were background players. Meredith narrated parts of the novel, but her character still felt torn. She was two people; a high school senior who talks like a Valley Girl (Meredith said “like” a little too much to be taken as anything but an airhead blonde with a penchant for shopping and gossip), and a snoopy neighbor who puts herself in dangerous situations and has an extreme amount of emotional control. She seems to have no fight-or-flight instinct; she consistently feels that creepy feeling like someone is watching her, yet she continues to snoop around a house where she has no business. Her illness, while real, doesn’t hinder her vision too much. Her disease is constantly blamed for her “hallucinations”, even though hallucinations are not listed as one of the symptoms of Fuch’s.

Heather, although she was supposed to be the Juliet to Adrien’s Romeo, was more of a background player than Sam. She is Adrien’s love interest, and we don’t really get too much of a feel for her, except that she feels so guilty for the car accident that killed her father that she is constantly depressed. Before we can really understand Heather, Adrien comes along and manipulates her, casting a spell on her to make her love him.

The jumping of point-of-view was somewhat distracting. One minute, I’m in Meredith’s head, reading about the thought process of a Valley Girl making desperate attempts to talk to her sister and figure out just what’s wrong with Adrien, the next I’m reading a third-person view of Adrien and Marie while they talk about how Marie wants to just eat everyone in town. I kept expecting to be put in someone else’s head, besides Meredith, when the point-of-view jumped back to first person.

The animals also threw me. While I understood that Adrien could control them because he feeds them, I couldn’t understand how a pack of hyenas could run around town without being seen or heard. Hyenas are not quiet animals. The piranha threw me, too. A school of piranha, if starving, can strip beef down to the bone in minutes. If they’re not starving, I’m pretty sure it would take a lot longer. The tank that piranha are kept in would require a lot of work to maintain; moreso than a tank with goldfish. I’m unsure that either Adrien or Marie would be willing to do constant tank maintenance to keep the piranha alive long enough to help them destroy evidence.

I mentioned earlier that I really adored Adrien and I was actually rooting for him. Not necessarily that he would be successful in turning Heather, but that he would survive whatever happens at the end. Somehow, at the end, he changes and suddenly realizes that he does love Heather, and he becomes self-sacrificing, which doesn’t fit with his earlier characterization of doing anything to get what he wants. Adrien’s character is twisted to fit the story-line of Romeo & Juliet, and in doing so it completely ruined the character for me.

Marie was constant throughout the novel. She was impatient, impulsive, and, when she was threatened, did what was necessary to possibly ensure her survival. She sets out to not only destroy Adrien, who wants Marie dead, but also to kill his beloved Heather.

Meredith was another constant character; although everyone else thought she was hallucinating, she sees the truth because she is somehow immune to Adrien’s charms. We are never given an explanation as to why this is. We can speculate that it’s because she doesn’t find Adrien attractive to begin with (she is more interested in her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Sam); we can assume it might have something to do with her Fuch’s disease. We, as readers, don’t know.

The ending of the novel, while finishing in a climactic battle scene between Adrien’s pack of hyenas and Marie’s army of newly-raised zombies, was a bit of a let-down. It was a nice touch to bring back Meredith and Heather’s father, and it was nice to see him changing sides once he hears Heather call him “Daddy”, it was also disappointing that Adrien suddenly has a change of heart about the whole thing, lets Heather go and tells her to get out of the auditorium, and get her sister out, as well. He tries to protect Meredith, the same Meredith he had been threatening to kill the entire novel. Then he destroys the zombies with a vat of acid that he keeps in a plastic container, marked “ACID”, in his back yard. I had to suspend my disbelief here, because acid would have eaten through a plastic container, and at least have started to eat through the wood flooring of the stage, not to mention the seats of the auditorium, as well as any carpeting and the stage props and scenery. It wouldn’t have puddled on the floor.

I enjoyed this book right up until the ending. It fit right up my alley for horror, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who is too squeamish, or anyone who doesn’t like reading about blood and guts and gore. If that’s right up your alley, I’d recommend reading it, if only for the interactions between Adrien and Marie.

A digital ARC of this novel was kindly provided by the publisher through netgalley.com.

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Cellar by A.J. Whitten

  1. Marce says:

    I love your description of the cover, very unique addition. I have this one on my Wishlist so didn’t read the review.

    • Jen says:

      Thanks. This was back when I was still talking a lot about the covers. I kind of gave up on that because I found that I didn’t have a lot to say about some covers. I hope you come back and read the review once you get a chance to read the book. 🙂

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