REVIEW: The Children of Red Peak by Craig Dilouie
Novel Review by Sheri White
David, Deacon, and Beth were friends as children, all three living on a compound. Although run by a man of strong faith and a belief in God, the kids lead a relatively normal life. Then the leader, Jeremiah Peele, goes to check out the scene of a miracle he heard about. He takes the miracle as a sign the apocalypse is imminent. The commune moves to the mountain, now becoming an apocalypse cult. The children’s lives change drastically for the worse. They live in shacks, half starving, no school, no playing. Just praying and working. The three friends survive a horrific night similar to Jonestown, but have not shaken the PTSD of that event — even they don’t remember the specifics.
The Children of Red Peak alternates between the three main characters’ past and present lives, finally returning to the mountain to confront their nightmares and put the past to rest. While I didn’t grow up in a cult or in a commune, my mother became a “born-again” Christian in 1979, and my childhood, while already not so great, became even more difficult. Where before I was somewhat neglected and ignored by my mother, now she was into every part of my life to make sure I stayed “pure.” I was twelve. The most awful part of this new life, however, was my mother’s unwavering belief that the world would end once the calendar turned to 2000. I don’t think it’s coincidence I had my first bout of depression shortly after I already suffered from anxiety; the combination was unbearable. She never stopped believing this for as long as I had contact with her. Sometimes, depending on what was in the news at the time, she would be almost gleeful, much like the adults in The Children of Red Peak.
At the funeral of one of their childhood friends, David is suddenly overtaken by sweating, shaking, nausea, and tunnel vision. Beth, now a psychiatrist, recognizes his distress, and can lead him outside and help ground him. She tells David he is safe, it will pass soon, shows him how to breathe, and promises she’ll stay with him as long as he needs her. It’s a beautifully written scene of compassion. Anxiety attacks aren’t widely understood, and those of us who suffer hear a lot of “just relax,” “it’s all in your head,” and “aren’t you being a little dramatic?” Craig DiLouie brought this scene to life as if he had experienced an anxiety attack himself and was met with kindness instead of derision or skepticism. How wonderful it would be if that were always the case for those of us who suffer with all sorts of mental and emotional health issues. My mother hoped I would become “born-again” as well and thought that constantly talking about the coming apocalypse would accomplish that. All it did was make me an atheist with sometimes crippling anxiety and depression. So many parents have no idea how they can mentally and emotionally harm their children; some don’t even care. The story didn’t exactly have a happy ending, but it was a good ending.
The Children of Red Peak is such a great book, and is a great example of how obsessive beliefs, in this case fanatical religion, can do so much harm to a child who has complete trust in their parents. But Craig DiLouie also showed how compassion and understanding can help those flailing and suffering in their lives.
Sheri White’s stories have been published in many anthologies and magazines, including Tales from the Crust (Editors Max Booth III and David James Keaton), Halldark Holidays (Editor Gabino Iglesias), and HWA’s Don’t Turn Out the Lights (Editor Jonathan Maberry). Her collection, Sacrificial Lambs and Others, was published in 2018.
Read the HWA Mental Health Initiative Charter here: https://horror.org/mental-health-initiative-charter/