You’re Not Supposed To Die Tonight (Kalynn Bayron) – Book Review

A haunted lake with a dark past plays host to a group of summer camp counsellors working on a ‘real life horror movie’ in You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight, the latest novel from Kalynn Bayron, her first YA horror offering, and one that explores legacy, family, and what it means to be a Final Girl.

Bayron has developed a niche for herself in YA in writing relatable queer Black heroines, whether that’s a displaced princess in Cinderella Is Dead or a chlorokinetic teen on a quest in the Poison Heart duology. In YNSTDT, we have Charity, a summer-time employee at Camp Mirror Lake, the setting of both a real-life tragedy and also a campy horror movie, the serene locale changed into a horror-soaked escape experience for the willing patron. Charity, ostensibly, is the Final Girl, the girl destined to outwit and escape the horrors and make it to the end – a fate seemingly thrown into question when real-life terrors begin to plague the camp and the body count begins to climb.

READ MORE: The Game Trilogy (1978-1979) – Blu-ray Review

Bayron proudly wears her influences on her sleeve, infusing her writing with a clear respect for the slasher movies of the 1980s and 1990s. The camp is a love letter to Camp Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th movies, while characters such as Charity’s horror-movie-rule-spouting friend Paige could have come straight from the Scream universe (this humble reviewer is reminded distinctly of the very good one-and-done Dead of Summer television series when thinking about YNSTDT).

It’s a lean, mean offering, one that attempts to put a world of storytelling into just over two-hundred pages, earning a comparison to Stephanie Perkins’ The Woods Are Watching Us, an equally-short tome that attempts to pull off a similar feat, of creating a short, sharp, gnarly horror treat for readers. It’s a uniformly fun time – Bayron clearly enjoys the source material and enjoys the meta-aspect to it all. The promotion for the novel suggests a comparison to Get Out (as any horror media with a Black lead, rightly or wrongly, is wont to do now), due to the largely Black cast, but it is in fact stands on its own as a meta-slasher closer to Scream, The Cabin in the Woods, or Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

If there’s any major criticism to be had with the book, it is that same truncated length. YNSTDT spends the first half of its page length setting up the story of the camp and its history, while only lightly touching on the characters themselves beyond Charity and her troubled, neglectful home life, meaning that when the true horror of the book kicks in, it leads to a feeling of being hurried along through certain beats, including the obligatory exposition, when more time and page length could have been spent building our cast of characters and number of set-pieces out more, to truly craft on-page impact.

READ MORE: Samurai Reincarnation (1981) – Blu-ray Review

The book is also oddly bloodless. There are certainly enough technical kills to sate a fictional kill count, but a lot of the characters are dispatched off-screen (if you will), only being returned as corpse-style window dressing for the rushed finale. This isn’t to say that Bayron should have gone down the gruesome route, but there are YA horrors out there that provide both emotional beats and truly terrifying kills (e.g. Adam Cesare’s Clown in a Cornfield).

These quibbles aside, You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight is a thrill ride of a book that is both a love letter to slasher films and a step forward in how horror literature in the 21st century can exist. Full of nuggets of pop-culture goodness and with plenty of twists and turns, it marks a mostly-auspicious turn for Bayron in the YA horror sphere, and one this reviewer hopes she will return too soon, rather like a certain hockey-mask-wearing villain rising from a lake to strike again…

You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight is out now from Bloomsbury YA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: