We Read Dead People: SEE NO EVIL

WeReadDeadPeople_01a (002)Welcome to We Read Dead People, where authors Stephanie Kuehn (Charm & Strange, The Smaller Evil) and Daniel Kraus (The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Rotters) read a novel from the glory days of direct-to-paperback horror—the magnificent 1980s—and determine whether it was worth the suggested retail price.

Poor little Caryn! She’s got a distant dad, a mean stepmother, Lisa, and she’s blind. The good news: a fancy surgeon visits their small town and deems that Caryn is a candidate for a cornea transplant! The bad news: There’s a long wait list. The weird news: the dead body of a girl named Anna Lee shows up, and the doc decides to transplant one of her eyes into Caryn—and the other into another blind kid, Todd, who just (coincidentally!) rolled into town. The eyes are, of course, evil, lending the two young recipients nasty powers. Turns out, Anna Lee is a spectral being known as the Donor. Apparently, we have just read Patricia Wallace’s See No Evil (1988).

See No Evil my copyDK: Six-word summary: I Bawl for All My Eyeballs.

SK: Organ Donor Shoutout: Reverence the Sacrifice! I have a lot of questions.

DK: Good, because I have a lot of answers! I’m just kidding. I’m totally confused. Let’s try to unpack the lore. I think there’s a being called the Caretaker who takes care of a being called the Donor. The Donor responds to some parents who pray for a organ donation for their child. Gruesomely, the Donor loses that part. But eventually grows it back and starts all over again. Yes?

SK: But then it seemed like the kids who got the donor transplant were then sort of stuck in some halfway spot between death and living. But also they could read minds and create people’s fears. And someone stole a baby.

DK: Slow down! Let me say something positive first. I think the Donor thing I just described is a really great idea. It’s haunting, it’s disgusting, it makes you think twice about wanting your own kid to get a donor body part. Now, this whole part I just described as a “really great idea” lasts about a page and half. It is totally squandered.

I keep reading it over and over like an SAT question, wondering what I’m missing.

SK: Agreed! There is something morbid about being in the position of wanting another child to die so that yours can live. And I think the Donor being a small child emphasized the sadness of that. But I got lost when Anna Lee says the “price of a death must be a death” thing.

DK: Here is the exact quote: “The price for saving a life is giving a life. It is only right, then, that the price of a death must also be a death.” Huh?

SK: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Is it a riddle?

This cover is a travesty.

This cover is a travesty.

DK: I keep reading it over and over like an SAT question, wondering what I’m missing. It makes me feel stupid. I feel like this is Wallace’s mission statement, but I don’t get it.

SK: Yes, I was frustrated because I felt like I wasn’t getting something. Todd’s mom stole Todd from her lover and his wife after her own baby was stillborn. Then she and Todd have been on the run ever since and I think she’s been running from having to pay with a death this whole time. I think that it was meant to tie into the “price of a death” theme.

DK: Oh, yeah. Hell, you might’ve cracked the mystery. Wait. Hang on. Dammit, I still don’t quite get it.

SK: No, it doesn’t all make sense.

DK: I feel like, for it to make satisfying plot sense, maybe Todd should have died? And then Todd’s mom adopts Caryn? Then it’s more like an eye for an eye? Actually, I don’t understand why Todd is even in the book. Erase Todd and his mom and don’t we have the same book?

SK: Pretty much! I think they are outrunning having to make a sacrifice, but it’s so oddly constructed that it doesn’t feel like anything is at stake for anyone.

Do “glowy eyes” count as an “ability”?

DK: And then add to that the preposterous notion that a brilliant surgeon, two blind children, and a donor all simultaneously land at a small-town hospital.

SK: And that the doctor will do one of the transplants for free because, why not?

DK: And he’ll do it even though they can’t get organ-donor permission because, why not?

SK: And then they lose the donor’s body. Sad!

See No Evil spineDK: Yeah, they were running a real shit show at that hospital. Last place I’d want someone messing with my eyeballs. Also did it strike you as weird that instead of giving both eyes to Caryn, the doctor suddenly decides to give the other one to this random kid Todd?

SK: I think they said they had to wait six months to do the other eye. So it was an extra eye. I’ve been rewatching ER of late, so I’m practically a doctor, and I do not feel like this was very medically accurate.

DK: Let’s get to the main confusion of the book. So these kids each get one of the Anna Lee’s eyes. Fine. And this transplant gives them abilities. Let’s list them.

SK: Glowy eyes.

DK: Excuse me?

SK: When they looked people in the eye, their pupils glowed.

DK: Do “glowy eyes” count as an “ability?”

SK: I think that meant they had made whatever connection allowed them to see into people’s minds.

DK: Right, they could read thoughts. They could also cause horrific hallucinations in others.

SK: They could also make people explode / have their heads pop off.

DK: Well, yeah, there’s that.

SK: The transplant made the two kids sort of evil. They liked scaring people. And I’m not sure why.

They’ve got eyeballs flying everywhere and an Amazon adventurer with leprosy.

DK: It was really uneven. Sometimes they seemed like good kids. And other times they were giggling psychopaths. Just like real kids!

SK: Ha. Some people deserved their fate, but some were just random patients, like the dude who just had a fever.

DK: Don’t forget that poor guy with leprosy.

SK: We went on a real tangent with him and his South American adventures.

DK: The characters keep saying how this is a sleepy little hospital, but Jesus, they’ve got eyeballs flying everywhere and an Amazon adventurer with leprosy. The hallucinations did result in two really solid horror scenes. 1) The nurse who thinks she caught leprosy and starts to scalpel off all the imagined lesions. 2) The IV tube that snakes up into a girl’s arm.

SK: Yes! I really liked the IV one. It was creepy. But there was no motive at all.

See No Evil back coverDK: I think, if we let go of sense and just focus on individual horror scenes, Wallace is the best we’ve read yet. She can write a good horror scene.

SK: Agreed. The parts didn’t all fit together, but there were some good scenes and the theme around mothers was interesting, too. Overall, though, it felt like such a jumble. Like it was maybe supposed to be some quieter story about sacrifice, but then needed to have a bunch of horror scenes in the middle, and scary children for no reason at all.

DK: Hear me out here. Both kids were blind and got eyeballs. But let’s say, instead of blind, they’d both been missing a foot. In theory, Anna Lee still would’ve shown up and they could’ve taken her feet. Would everything else play out the same? Like, with evil feet?

SK: Do foot transplants happen?

DK: Don’t bog me down in technicalities, Dr. Kuehn. Whatever you’d like. An evil liver. An evil lung.

SK: I think if it had been a major organ, it could’ve still worked.

DK: It’d actually make more sense if Todd wasn’t coincidentally also blind but instead needed a kidney or something. But I guess then you have a book about an evil kidney and that’s weird.

SK: Yeah, I don’t think eyes really had anything to do with the story ultimately, which is unfortunate.

DK: Also unfortunate: no incest. At all. Is this even a book?

Incest-o-meter LOW

DK: OK, closing arguments. Was this book worth the asking price of $3.95?

SK: Although the end was frustrating because I’m not sure I understood what was happening, I’ve got a genuine soft spot for evil children who wreak havoc just because they can. I also enjoyed Caryn and Todd’s transformation from being treated as helpless by those around them to finding agency, not in being able to see, but in their connection to one another and the power they found in their wickedness. Add in a few good scenes of hallucinating horror and yeah, I think it was worth the $3.95. Just barely!

DK: What I go into these books looking for, I’m realizing, are memorable moments. I’m going to remember that IV tube scene forever. And the idea of the Donor is so brilliant. It’s an emotionally crushing idea, really—I don’t think Wallace realized what a gem she had in her hands. Maybe I wouldn’t give my left eye for this book, but I’d cough up 3.95 for it any day. One last bonus remark: I’d like to direct your attention to the dress on the book’s cover.

See No Evil dress

SK: Are those little skulls?

DK: They’re little people with big, gaping eye-holes. I thought that was kind of clever.

SK: What’s up with the tag line, though? “Horror opened their eyes. . . and claimed their souls. . . ”

DK: Oh god, another riddle to unpack.


See No Evil collage



About the Author:

Dan Kraus is Booklist's Editor of Books for Youth. He is also the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielDKraus.

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