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  • Bella Dean Joyner

Book Review: Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

Has it really been almost two months since my last book review? Time flies when you're having fun! Let's see, I published my first novella Hushed, a prequel to the Hushed Horror Thriller series, and my second novel, Whispering. I also recently obtained my copyediting certification and opened a freelance editing business dedicated to helping self-publishing authors maintain quality and industry standards. I'm really looking forward to what 2021 has in store!


For those of you who have joined my Horror Mantle Facebook group, you've seen how active I can be on social media. My favorite groups center around horror novels and horror authors. Recently, I found a discussion about a Reddit sensation from a couple years back that reminded me about Twitter sensation "Dear David". In these Reddit posts, a gentleman by the name of Dathan Auerbach posted a series of short stories, tidbits of memories from childhood that centered around an unknown person's subtle involvement in his life following a Kindergarten balloon release event. Auerbach was asked by the Reddit audience to compile the stories into a book, and thus we have Penpal.


The novel is up on Amazon for $4.99 or on paperback for $9.99. It does not appear to be on Kindle Unlimited at this time.



When I first read the discussion on the Facebook group that introduced me to this novel, I thought yeah right. The creepiest story they had read? Kept them up at night? We've heard this said countless times about books that never lived up to the hype. I was quick to dismiss the claims, but thought I would read it anyway.


I am very glad that I did.


The novel is written from an older teenager's perspective, though it often has the feel of being told by an eight or nine year old boy. I found that this added realism and believability to the novel which heightened the suspense.


The memories included are not successive. They do jump almost as if they were remembered and addressed at different points, and I found that this threw me off at some times. I don't know that the jumping around of ideas added much to the novel. In fact, I dare say that had the memories been put into chronological order, it might have added to the overall tension and readability of the novel itself, which is the point of horror if I'm not mistaken.


Though slightly distracting, the order does not majorly detract from the novel. I still had a number of moments that I said woah or oh damn. The characters are believable and relatable. Each one is written with a depth and richness that makes them worth investing in.


If you're looking for a novel that will take you back to that one epic friendship you had in grade school, your person, the one you drifted from but think about from time to time, this is that novel. If you're looking for a novel that will take you back to your old neighborhood, back to the tree forts and runs through the woods behind your house, this is that novel. If you're looking for a novel that will remind you of that crawl space under your house, the strange noises when no one else should be home, the feeling that someone is watching you, this is that novel. Auerbach weaves a wonderfully poignant tale of best friend summers and little boy dreams, memories tainted in retrospect by the man he did not realize was there.


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