Book Review: Survive the Night by Danielle Vega
Goodreads Description: We're all gonna die down here. . . .
Julie lies dead and disemboweled in a dank, black subway tunnel, red-eyed rats nibbling at her fingers. Her friends think she’s just off with some guy—no one could hear her getting torn apart over the sound of pulsing music.
In a tunnel nearby, Casey regrets coming to Survive the Night, the all-night underground rave in the New York City subway. Her best friend Shana talked her into it, even though Casey just got out of rehab. Alone and lost in the dark, creepy tunnels, Casey doesn’t think Survive the Night could get any worse . . .
. . . until she comes across Julie’s body, and the party turns deadly.
Desperate for help, Casey and her friends find themselves running through the putrid subway system, searching for a way out. But every manhole is sealed shut, and every noise echoes eerily in the dark, reminding them they’re not alone.
They’re being hunted.
My Review: Survive the Night has a strong opening hook, but afterwards it kind of trickles along slowly, taking a while to get to the rave itself, let alone any of the more severe conflicts taking place. Despite this, there's a lot of character interaction and mini tensions thrown in to keep your interest until the main event begins taking place. This helps to establish the characters before they're reduced to running, screaming balls of terror. It also allowed for me to connect with Julie much more before she is killed off. This, however, is where I was a little disappointed. I wish I didn't know which of her friends would die first going in-- as was spoiled in the back jacket I read before picking it up. It made it seem like Julie would die much sooner and also left me studying her character through the lens of "this character will be killed off." Which took away from the surprise and question of it all.
What initially interested me about the book was the talk of drug and rave culture, which is something not often talked about in YA. It was exciting to see the topics taken head on, but there were quite a few ways where it fell short. The main character, Casey, is a good girl dragged into the world of drugs by an eccentric friend. This is perfectly understandable, but I feel like Casey spent too much time establishing that she was "better now" since being to rehab. If Casey was to the point that she had been put into rehab (and Shana wasn't???), which also was shown as plausible through her dependence on her pain killers, she wouldn't be able to walk away from rehab with a smile and a skip in her step. Addiction is often a lifelong struggle, which was glossed over a little too much. This was probably in an attempt to make Casey more "relateable" or to show that drugs are super bad, mmkay.
If Casey was too much of a "good girl," then Shana was too much of a wild card. Yes, her behaviours seemed in line with some of the out of control kids I see at my work with at risk kids and teens. But she needed more explanation for her behaviours. There is a moment near the end where she tries to make Casey understand why she did what she did, but there wasn't enough of that. Why did Shana feel she needed to be out of control? Why did she go out of her way to put herself and friends in danger for a good time? It didn't go into her motivation for what she did besides "fun," which was really lacking. Even the most crazy and whacked out kids I see at work have a reason for doing what they do, even if it's as (unfortunately) trite as the excuse of "My parents beat me/I had to deal with x trauma" etc. But there's an emotional motivation for their desire to do these dangerous things. The beginnings of that was there, but there needed to be more of it.
Without going into the real thoughts and feelings behind their addiction, the whole rehab/drug subplot didn't have the full impact it could. In that same vein, the author attempted to use the effects of the drugs to create an unreliable narrator. Is she really seeing her friend dead in the subway? Or is she just tripping balls? It seemed like the author could have taken that vein straight through to the end, and it would have been interesting to leave it as a "was all that real?" kind of ending. (Which it kind of seemed like it tried, but the way it was laid out made it impossible.)
In the end, what really got me about the book was the thing that ended up hunting them. It was something I didn't really expect, especially because of how the book began, but I actually enjoyed it. Again, I wish more had been done with it, a bit more of an explanation, as well as something at the end that gave closure to its existence, even if it is an open-ended "It's always just below their feet," kind of ending. As it was, I looked at the final scene in the hospital and much of the end of the book as a metaphor for Casey and her addiction. The struggle in the hospital at the end, really, made me think of it as Casey finally putting an end to her dependence once and for all. Unfortunately, this was more of my interpenetration and a bit of a stretch, and I don't think a lot of readers would see it that way. Which is a shame.
In the end, it had the start of a lot of good ideas, and is definitely reminiscent of old slasher movies, but didn't quite measure up to what it could have been.
TL;DR: 3/5 stars. So much promise, not enough payoff.