At first glance, Oleander, Kansas, is a town like any other—small, isolated and full of secrets—until the “killing day,” when five citizens inexplicably murder 12 people before killing themselves. Only one teenage girl survives. Cassandra Porter is convicted and locked away without any answers as to how she could kill a person—let alone an infant.

A year after the killing day, the town is leveled by a Category 5 tornado, but that’s just the beginning of the destruction. Oleander is immediately quarantined, the town elders impose their own rule and violence ensues. Five teenagers—the closeted jock, the drug dealer’s daughter, the outcast’s son, the religious fanatic and Cassandra the baby killer—can see the evil plaguing their town, even if they don’t quite understand it. And only they can stop the madness or die trying.

The Waking Dark is a well-crafted, multi-narrative tour de force that explores weighty issues such as physical and sexual abuse, drug addiction, hypocrisy and homophobia with the chill of a Stephen King novel. Robin Wasserman cleverly uses science fiction and horror to explore themes of good and evil, and the choices people make to be one or the other. Are the townspeople driven to commit such violence because deep down that’s who they really are? Or is it because something sinister is turning them into monsters? Wasserman doesn’t tread lightly here: The violence is cringe-worthy and frequent, but it serves a narrative purpose. Fast-paced and engrossing, The Waking Dark has great crossover potential for adults as well as teens.

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