Title: “One by One”
Author: D.W. Gillespie
Publishing Date: 26 September 2019
Pages (paperback): 240 pages
“The Easton family has just moved into their new fixer-upper, a beautiful old house that they bought at a steal, and Alice, the youngest of the family, is excited to explore the strange, new place. Her excitement turns to growing dread as she discovers a picture hidden under the old wallpaper, a child’s drawing of a family just like hers.
“Soon after, members of the family begin to disappear, each victim marked on the child’s drawing with a dark black X. It’s up to her to unlock the grim mystery of the house before she becomes the next victim.”
Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:
- Domestic violence
- Child sexual abuse (alluded to; not graphic)
- Animal death (family pet)
- Ableism in regards to mental illness
Representation in the novel:
While One by One is a spooky psychological thriller and perfect for a crisp October evening, I was…not a huge fan of certain aspects, including how a character’s actions were excused, the protagonist’s age, and the ableism at the end.
One by One by D.W. Gillespie centers around 10-year-old Alice and her family when they move into a house in the middle of nowhere. It’s a fixer-upper with its own eccentricities, and outside of Frank, Alice’s father, and Alice herself, no one else in the family likes it. It’ll just take some getting used to, Frank says. But when Alice discovers a family portrait on the wall, drawn by a child who lived there in years prior, things start to get…weird.
While reading, I did find that the characters were either interesting, or just a bit infuriating for me. We have…
Alice: a deeply introspective 10-year-old girl; the protagonist. I really enjoyed her as the main character. She’s young enough where she still holds child-like innocence, but she also notices many things that her family either overlooks or refuses to see. Things that only she can put together…before it’s too late. However, while I did love her as a character, I think that she may have been too young, from the way she talked of others. She’s supposed to be 10 years old, but she says that her classmates are already talking about boys and sex. I mean, I’m all for kids experimenting safely, but at 10? From my experience (and I’m only 21, so I hope it isn’t too far off to today’s standards), it isn’t until around 12 or so that most students really start getting curious about “real” relationships. I am especially thinking this when there was a (fade to black, nothing explicit whatsoever) masturbation scene with Alice. At 12, I can totally understand this. But at 10? I don’t know. Just the way it was structured seemed like she should have been older.
Dean: Alice’s moody 15-year-old brother. Definitely my second favorite character, Dean did not want to move to the new house whatsoever. He’s angry at his parents, especially Frank, and sometimes he takes it out on Alice. However, I loved his and Alice’s relationship. While he does snap at her from time to time, he tries his best to protect her. And most of the time, they get along really well!
Deborah and Frank: the (arguably really horrible) parents. Honestly? Didn’t like them whatsoever. Deborah, as a whole, was okay. Like Dean, she didn’t want to move to the new house, so she and Frank constantly fight. She tried her best to protect her children from Frank, but I felt like she was still complicit.
And Frank? I hate him. I do. I don’t care if he’s stressed, you do not threaten and hit your children. If that was the end of it, storywise, I’d mostly be fine with it. He’d be a horrible character that I love to hate, and that’d be that. But no, we have some sort of convoluted “redemption” arc for him, where everyone forgives him for his “misgivings.” None of his abusive behavior (past or present) was ever addressed substantially outside of the first incident. So, yeah, wasn’t a big fan of his narrative/development.
Also! This whole family needs therapy after everything that happens. But do they get it? Nope. Which I find to be an…interesting choice by the author. Hm. Maybe that’s just me.
However, that doesn’t mean I absolutely hated the novel or that the rest of it wasn’t good. There were a few highlights, but also a couple things I could do without.
Need a spooky Halloween read? This might be for you! I really liked the eeriness in the beginning of the novel. It was unsettling, and I thought it was enjoyable. While it seemed to die down the longer the novel went, others who want a general spooky read may enjoy it. Overall, it was still unsettling.
Some story elements? Really cool. I won’t spoil anything, but there is a diary involved, and I thought it added a nice touch. My only complaint is that I wish there were more entries!
Can we do away with the ableist, “character goes ‘crazy’ due to grief/whatever else” trope? Seriously, I know it seems to be a staple to have an ableist portrayal of a mentally ill person in thriller and horror, but just think if it just..went away. Or, at the very least, subvert it in some way. But nope, all we got is this hot mess. This isn’t necessarily the author’s fault, per say, but it’s tiring to see it over and over again in horror and thriller media. Overall, though? It was a pretty solid book. While it did have its downfalls, I think that people who generally enjoy thrillers would enjoy One by One. The child’s perspective was unique, even if it seemed more probable if Alice was a couple years older. If someone can look past how Frank’s behavior was excused, as well as the ableism, they would probably enjoy this spooky novel!
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