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REVIEWS: IT by Stephen King


Novel Review by Brooklyn Ann

Plot summary:
Welcome to Derry, Maine …
It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real …
They were seven pre-teens when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grownups who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.

Content warnings for this book: Child abuse, child death, animal death, suicide, racial slurs, fat-shaming, antisemitic language, domestic violence, homophobic slurs, hate crimes, ableism, and a very bizarre sexual scene between minors.

Whew! That’s a lot and I hope I got them all. Despite all of that, and despite a less than satisfactory ending, IT is one of my favorite novels of all time. I was fifteen when I first read IT, while recovering from a traumatic event. Meeting the Loser’s Club, the seven main characters in the story who fight the monster, made me feel like I’d made new friends. I could empathize with them, since I was also a bullied outcast. Further rereads made me fall in love with King’s brilliant use of setting as character. Despite all the horrific history of the town of Derry, it’s so fun and familiar to visit.

But I’ve finally figured out that the main theme of this epic saga is childhood trauma, and how its stain can remain into adulthood. This is evident from the early chapters, which show an adult Beverly in an abusive marriage after being with an abusive father, and how Eddie is a hypochondriac after growing up with a mother who did her best to convince him that he was weak and sick. Even the happier adult characters are haunted by nightmares from the past, especially poor Stan. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that Pennywise is also cyclical, returning every twenty-seven years, and even the old-timers of Derry who don’t believe in Pennywise frequently mention “The cycle” of violence, murders, and disappearances that strike their town every quarter-century.

But both the child and adult POV sections of IT depict something even more than trauma and its long-term effects. They also share a message of empowerment. The Loser’s Club learns that they only way they can defeat the monster is through the power they gain from their friendship. That same power helps them defeat the bullies that are after them, and even helps some of them stand up to abusive parents.

And when they find out that IT isn’t dead and have to go back to fight the monster again, they must reforge their bonds and regain that power. Not only that, but they also need to draw from their own inner power to defeat their own inner demons that keep perpetuating their own inner traumas. Ben may or may not have been the first to do this, when he relates the story of how he stood up to his mom overfeeding him out of her own insecurity with her ability to provide for him as a poor single mother in a time when single mothers were rare and suffered extreme shame. King’s own issues with fatphobia somewhat hinder the impact of that moment, though. Beverly finds her inner power and breaks the cycle when she escapes her abusive husband. It’s notable that Stan fails to draw from his inner power and reconnect with his support system as he’s the character who tries the hardest to suppress his traumas rather than facing them.

Anyway, my point about why this book, despite its flaws and triggering content, is so important is that the story makes us readers who’ve suffered trauma feel seen. Especially the very relatable, heartbreaking scenes where their parents, people who are supposed to protect them, didn’t believe them, or ignored their suffering. IT reminds us that we are not alone in what we’ve suffered, and that we too can band together with others who share similar experiences, empower ourselves and each other, and fight our monsters.
It’s funny that though I’ve been long aware of these themes about the cyclical nature of trauma and how one can gain empowerment, their significance only really struck me when my therapist—who is a trauma clinician—suggested that to get out of a devastating writing block that was preventing me from writing my own coming-of-age horror novel, that we read a book that I find most inspiring. Of course, I chose IT. This approach to my PTSD therapy is working quite well for me and I wrote a piece about my experience with this bibliotherapy and how having PTSD impacts my writing horror. You can read that on the HWA Holistic Horrors blog.

Formerly an auto-mechanic, Brooklyn Ann thrives on writing romance, urban fantasy, and horror novels featuring unconventional heroines and heroes who adore them. Author of historical paranormal romance in her critically acclaimed “Scandals with Bite” series, urban fantasy in the cult favorite, “Brides of Prophecy” novels, rockstar romance in the award-winning, “Hearts of Metal” series, and horror in the “B Mine” series, horror romances riffing on the 1970s and 1980s B horror movies that feature a Final Couple instead of a Final Girl. She lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho with her gamer son, rockstar/IT Guy boyfriend, three cats, a few project cars, an extensive book collection, and miscellaneous horror memorabilia. She can be found online at https://brooklynannauthor.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook, Mastodon, and Instagram.

Novel Review by L. E. Daniels


“He thrusts his fists against the posts, and still insists he sees the ghosts.”

In a great sweep, Brooklyn Ann’s Notable Works review of Stephen King’s novel IT encompasses the goal of the HWA’s Mental Health Initiative to promote informed representation right across our genre. My review, however, examines one aspect connected to the novel’s confrontation of ableism—the inclusion of a main character with a stutter well before the contemporary movements of neurodiversity and sensitive depiction.

Perhaps due to the challenges of capturing the condition without veering into caricature or burdening the prose, a stutter is a scarce trait in literature, and even rarer in a main character. Through young Bill Denbrough, King placed a character with a stutter into the spotlight, and he did it with emotional honesty and psychological precision. True to life, young Bill’s stutter gets worse when he’s stressed but fades when he’s with his friends. Bill is targeted by the local bully, Henry Bowers for his stutter, while his friends in the Loser’s Club—acutely aware of their own struggles—simply accept it. Any jibes, usually from Richie Tozier, are colored by affection and the dark humor essential for those surviving a monster loose in the shadows of their town. After the final childhood encounter with It, Bill overcomes his stutter with help from a speech therapist. Twenty-eight years later, when Mike Hanlon calls Bill back to Derry, we experience the crushing return of the stutter as well.

These details might read as just part of the story, but for those who know them first-hand, the contours are intimate. Whether King intended it or not, he showed readers ways to handle a stutter when they encountered one. For those with a stutter, the authenticity makes IT doggedly special and incredibly personal.

In 1986, I was fifteen when I received IT for Christmas from my mother. She was my greatest advocate as I navigated the school system with a stutter, but neither of us knew what awaited me in that book. By that age, I had reached a stage where I could mostly control my stutter but in my younger years, I couldn’t. In primary school, there was a chant just for me on the school bus and some uninformed teachers thought they could humiliate it out of me, so I learned early to keep my head down. I avoided activities that involved speaking, and the stutter, like so many similar physical and psychological challenges, made my world smaller at a time when it could have been expanding.

Before I started to read IT, I could name precisely two secondary characters with a stutter: Billy in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Private Walter Palmer in the 1982 “Run for the Money” episode of M*A*S*H. By including a character with a stutter and pairing him with the theme of the deliberate refusal to be overtaken by fear, IT gave readers like me a potent nudge. As soon as I finished the novel, I entered and won my first poetry contest. Emboldened, I wrote to Stephen King and to my tearful delight, he wrote back. IT marked the start of my writing career. Even more, it showed me that the catch of keeping my head down was how habitual it had become. Authentic and empowering representation of characters with physical and psychological challenges in horror fiction show us how to look up and how to keep looking ahead.

A Rhode Islander living in Australia, Lauren Elise Daniels earned her MFA in Creative Writing with Emerson College in the 1990s. Her novel, Serpent’s Wake: A Tale for the Bitten was published in 2018. With Geneve Flynn, she co-edited Aiki Flinthart’s legacy anthology, Relics, Wrecks and Ruins, winning the 2021 Aurealis Award. With Christa Carmen, she co-edited the anthology, We are Providence (Weird House Press) which features her short story, “Spectacle Cove.”

Other short fiction includes the New England Gothic “Birnam Wood” in Generation-Xed (Dark Ink), and the creature-feature “Ma Bones” (Midnight Magazine). Her nonfiction story, “Spooned by the Dead” appears in Out of Time True Paranormal Encounters (Timber Ghost Press). For poetry, Lauren published “Night Terrors” with the HWA Wellness Committee’s Of Horror and Hope and in 2023, her poems “Tarantella” and “Unclean Break” will appear in Under Her Eye (Black Spot Books) in Dastardly Damsels respectively. She’s edited over 100 published titles and directs Brisbane Writers Workshop.

Read the HWA Mental Health Initiative Charter here: https://horror.org/mental-health-initiative-charter/

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