Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.
Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you so much to Gallery / Saga Press for the chance to read this one early*
Trigger warnings: graphic violence, discussion of sexual assault, predatory behavior, suicide, mental health, domestic abuse, substance abuse, violence against animals
I really didn’t know what to expect going in to this book, other than the fact that I loved the sound of the synopsis and wow did it live up to it. This is my first time reading any of Stephen Graham Jones work but I definitely don’t think it will be the last. I love horror and thrillers and I’m always on the lookout for BIPOC voices in these genres particularly so it’s great to see such a prolific author in this genre.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw is a powerful and raw novel in all sense of the word, and Jade our protagonist is at it’s bleeding heart. I loved how the author took the classic horror tropes; small town, special town event, newcomers and a final girl to name just a few, and used them to his own unique and devastating effect.
I also liked how there was such an entire multitude of horror references, with all the major eighties slashers and all the other iconic moments in film. I also thought the fact the story was intersected with Jade’s mini essays on different horror tropes and events added so much to the story and acts as a crash course into horror, for readers who are perhaps not as familiar with the genre, this is a really cool touch.
As well as being a homage to horror in many ways, the novel is also a coming of age and coming to terms with the past for Jade, our protagonist and resident horror aficionado. I really liked Jade’s narrative voice and her arc was nothing short of superb, despite being fraught with sadness. Her family situation is fractured and while there are many factors involved such as her dad’s drinking and her mother abandoning them both, there is an extremely traumatic moment in Jade’s childhood which Jade spends the whole novel and her life up till this point trying to come to terms with. I empathised with Jade so much and there’s moments coming up to the conclusion of the novel which offer small moments of healing for her which I was so glad for. I just wanted to give her a hug to be honest.
The whole novel is tinged with this surreal quality, with certain moments feeling like a vivid fever dream. Much like Jade, as a reader you’re left questioning whether there is a slasher film waiting to happen or whether it’s all a figment of her imagination. I think this is really heightened by the small town setting of the novel and how claustrophobic it is to Jade in particular and how she has no allies except for one of her teachers.
As well as the novel being a very successful addition to the horror genre, Jones also explores a variety of social issues within the novel such as gentrification, social class dynamics, racism, sexual assault and more. In particular the exploration of gentrification was excellent, this is an issue that so many communities are and have been facing and the way Jones approaches this, in a stark and very real way is just so good. There are no illusions about the damage gentrification does and while in reality it may not result in a literal bloodbath like it does in this book – it’s still extremely harmful.
Overall, this book is an excellent addition to the horror genre and also so much more, the horror works on multiple levels and this is what makes it so effective. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy horror, and in particular books with some deeper underlying messages and social commentary.
Until next time,