Welcome back to the bookclub! In September, we read PenPal by Dathan Auerbach for The You’ll Read Too Bookclub! If you wish to access all of the latest updates/information, click here. Spoilers ahead!
Quick Reminder: This month we are reading ‘Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives’ by Adam Cesare! You’re also welcome to read ‘Clown in a Cornfield‘, as this is a special, double-issue event!
Today I’m going to discuss the book in the same way I normally do my Instagram videos. You can find the recorded talk on my bookclub Instagram page. I’ll give a quick plot summary plus my overall star/scare-factor ratings. Then I will share the discussion topics and trivia questions. Please include all of your answers and opinions down below. I want to know exactly what you thought. I’ll also leave the answers to the trivia questions at the very bottom of the post, so if you wish to guess without being spoiled, do not scroll to the end until you’re ready. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
PENPAL BY DATHAN AUERBACH – SEPTEMBER 2022
A man investigates the seemingly unrelated bizarre, tragic, and horrific occurrences of his childhood in an attempt to finally understand them. Beginning with only fragments of his earliest years, you’ll follow the narrator as he discovers that these strange and horrible events are actually part of a single terrifying story that has shaped the entirety of his life and the lives of those around him…
OVERALL STAR RATING
I gave this book a whopping 5/5 stars! It is my second favourite read of 2022. The first being Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel. The story drew me in from the very first page and wouldn’t let go. I was mesmerised by it. I kept trying to piece the character’s life events together, despite the fact that it wasn’t told in a linear way. It was disturbing, deeply sad and unsettling. I could easily see this being adapted to screen. There was a fever-dream quality to the narration that won’t appeal to everybody, but it did for me.
OVERALL SCARE-FACTOR RATING
I gave this book a scare-factor rating of 5/5 stars. Before I picked it up, I read that it was one of the scariest books from the last few years. I have to agree. The storytelling was so effective in that it only got more and more disturbing as it went along. At the end of each chapter, a new piece of information filled me with further dread. I couldn’t believe how intense the reading experience was.
1.) Why do you think we never learned the protagonist’s name?
Some fans have dubbed the narrator “Dathan” after the author, but it was never confirmed by the writer himself. I believe the reason we didn’t learn his name was because it added to the horror. It made him harder to picture in my opinion. The story was already told in such a foggy, blurry manner that the absence of a name only deepened the disturbing elements. What are your theories?
2.) Was the balloon activity a good idea? How could it be made safer?
The balloon activity was a good idea in theory, but it paved the way for predators to strike, as we saw in the story. It would have been better addressing letters to children from other schools. Teachers would also need to scan the correspondence as it came in, before giving it to the child. The balloons could have been released with notes for strangers to find (without a return address) but the issue with that was a stalker could be watching it happen from afar and it would defeat the whole pen-pal purpose.
3.) Do you like the way the story was told in snapshots? Why/why not?
Yes. The way it was told contributed highly to its five-star rating. A child does not remember their life in a linear way, especially if deep trauma is involved. It was narrated in a very realistic manner. We weren’t meant to piece the puzzle together. However, we were meant to be confused. The author knew that the readers didn’t need an exact timeline to figure out what was happening. They just needed enough details to unnerve and disturb them.
Easy: What was the shape of the pool floatie?
Medium: What movie did Veronica go see with the main character?
Hard: What question did the main character ask everybody as a child?
I hope you enjoyed the book club discussion in this post and on Instagram. As mentioned above, share all of your thoughts in the comments below! If you have any feedback/suggestions to improve the bookclub, please let me know. I look forward to talking to you all next month! Thanks for reading!
Peace & Love xoxo
TRIVIA ANSWERS: Easy: Shark. Medium: Day of the Dead. Hard: ‘How far can you go into the woods?’