My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

THIS BOOK. I didn’t know quite what to prepare myself for, seeing as this was my first Stephen Graham Jones novel. But My Heart Is a Chainsaw blew my expectations out of the water. 

Rating: 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mini Plot Summary: Jade Daniels, a half-Indian high school senior, lives in tiny Proofrock, Idaho with her abusive father. Horrible things in its history made Proofrock and its idyllic Indian Lake what it is, and Jade – a scholar and enthusiast of horror films – is certain that her hometown is ripe for its own slasher cycle. When the first body shows up and proves her right, she’s equal parts elated and determined – because she, more than anyone else, knows exactly what’s going to happen… and just how much blood is about to be spilled. 

image from amazon.com

What I Liked About This Book: First, I LOVED the beginning. It really set the tone. It was creepy and gory and absolutely wonderful. Not since that scene in Scream when Drew Barrymore is on the phone, her popcorn popping in the background, have I felt such a delicious thrill of excited foreboding. 

The protagonist, Jade is a remarkable character. She is brave, she is humble, she is self-sufficient, she is witty, she is resilient, she is self-aware, she is optimistic, she is relentless. She felt so real to me. I completely 100% understand why the title of this book is “my heart is a chainsaw,” because I think Jade would believe that of her own heart. In its destructiveness, in its ability to evoke panic and chaos. In its absolute symbolism of the genre she loves. But I don’t think her heart IS a chainsaw; I think it’s an open wound. You’ll have to read the book to find out why, and to understand what hurt her and whether she can ever fully heal. 

This book is, in large part, an homage to the horror film. References to Jaws, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Scream, and many more abound. While I mostly enjoyed the horror movie nostalgia that was threaded through the narrative, it got to be a little much for me… but it felt very in-character for Jade. I could imagine how many people (including her beloved history teacher and the local sheriff) she wearied with her enthusiastic overview of the latest horror flick, and so felt a lot of empathy for how it must feel to have a passion that few people share or understand. (By the way, I couldn’t help thinking of Survive the Night by Riley Sager while I was reading this. Jones used horror films in much the same way as Sager used suspense films as a tool to move its plot forward and motivate its protagonist. I found it much more successful here, partly because of Jade’s unbridled adoration of the genre.)

I also loved how completely bonkers the last third of the book is. I mean, it’s a horror novel, so I expected blood and gore. But WOWZA did it over-deliver. While I felt like the “who done it and why” portion of the book got a teeny bit convoluted, I didn’t really care because I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out who was going to die next and how. The writing is, unsurprisingly, extremely cinematic, and I can’t imagine it will be long before My Heart Is a Chainsaw comes to theaters near all of us. 

What I Didn’t Like About This Book: Okay, real talk: there was a point in the middle of the novel – maybe the middle third – where this book dragged a bit for me. The primary plot stagnated a bit, and Jade’s obsession with horror films got a little tiresome for me. But I stuck it out, and I am SO GLAD because the payoff in the final third or so is just completely worth a little bit of a slog through the middle. 

Should You Read This Book? This was a phenomenal, layered, pulse-pounding, gruesome horror novel with a tender beating heart at its center. If you like horror, you will love this. If you like great writing, you will love this. If you like complex characters with satisfying story arcs, you will love this. You will love this. 

Thank you so much to Gallery Books, NetGalley, and the author for the free e-arc of this book in exchange for my unbiased review! 

* So many content warnings, which seems obvious because of the genre. But if you want specifics, I am happy to share more details.

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