The Crossroads - Chris Grabenstein

As a general rule, I don't DNF books. Sometimes I wish that wasn't the case, given how much time I've wasted on books I didn't enjoy, but that's just how I am. Most of the time, I at least have some desire to see how a book turns out, even if it's a book I'm not enjoying.


That was not the case with The Crossroads. It's been over two years since I've DNF'd a book, but I've finally found one I just couldn't force myself through. Trying to read The Crossroads--trying to pretend I was remotely interested in this absolutely ridiculous, utterly weird horror-mystery--was a goddamn painful experience. And so, of course, this review is going to be a big ol' bunch o' bitchin', and I'm not pulling punches on spoilers. If you don't want to be spoiled and would prefer to judge The Crossroads for yourself, don't read any further.


The Crossroads is an ensemble story that introduces a large (for MG) cast of ostensibly non-connected characters who are slowly revealed to be connected. It's supposed to be an intriguing, slowly unfolding mystery... and I could not be fucked to care. At no point was I presented with a single reason to be interested in these characters, let alone actively wonder how they were connected, and the mystery itself was almost entirely fueled by the arbitrary withholding of important details. It took--I shit you not--130 pages for the identity of the linchpin character, the man killed at the crossroads, to be revealed... in spite of the fact that his ghost became a POV character at page 80!


My lack of interest wasn't exactly helped by the ADD writing style of the story. I have no complaint about how the point of view shifted with the chapters in order to give screentime to all the characters at varying intervals. I am, however, annoyed at the absurd percentage of chapters that were only one or two pages long and far too short for anything to actually happen. It felt like every plotline and POV character was vying for my attention at all times yet doing nothing to earn it, or else that the book itself kept getting distracted and bouncing around from thread to thread with such frenzy that it never actually made any progress. This was perhaps the most frustrating reason behind why eighty freaking pages of this 325 page book passed before the plot even started to show up (and when it did make an appearance, it certainly went nowhere fast).


The primary main character of the story was Zack, an eleven-year-old boy who acted like a six-year-old and was literally identified by a bit character as "the chosen one". Really, Zack makes no sense all around. He has this paranoia of evil trees (you know, like most kids do...) and then just so happens to move in next door to an evil fucking tree that contains the ghost of a man with a grudge against his family. On top of that, he also has a subplot about a bully who calls him "Barbie" and beats the shit out of him, but that's resolved when Zack pantses the kid mid-beating, which reveals that the eleven- or twelve-year-old bully wears diapers. So of course the bully loses all his friends, who immediately give him a mean nickname and become Zack's friends instead! (What is this, some kind of screwy wolf pack? You just prove you're tougher than the alpha male and take all his friends for your own? Are we pretending that's how human relationships work now? And what's with the fucking diaper bit? Why exactly is this bullying subplot resolved with more bullying?)


But while the bullying/diaper bit (chapter 43) heavily contributed to my decision to DNF, it wasn't the final straw. The final straw was Chapter 44, which blended together my three biggest complaints about the story and its writing.


1) The dialogue was horrible, especially in Chapter 44, which contained an utterly ridiculous exchange between Billy and Clint.


2) The characters' actions are completely unbelievable, especially when it comes to the ghost. Zack, Mary, and the bit character who identifies Zack as "the chosen one" just know things. No one displays any significant reaction to the death of two different elderly characters--including the family members of the deceased. Everyone is super chill about talking to or even being possessed by a ghost. Zack's dad is mind-blowingly oblivious during the introduction of the bully, Kyle, and the entire scene involving Kyle's apparent comeuppance is completely, ridiculously nuts.


3) Which brings me to my last complaint: though the tiny chapters and stagnant plot utterly remove any chance of suspense, everything is extremely dramatic and exaggerated. A diaper-wearing bully is defeated by pantsing. A bit character shows up just to call a random kid "the chosen one", despite the fact that the plot itself hasn't even bothered to show up yet. An old woman is literally frightened to death by the spooky-scary ghostie she'd been fairly calmly talking to just a moment before. Okie dokie, then.


So, yeah. I'm going to give myself a pass on this one and just throw in the towel. The so-called mystery was boring, the characters were dull and frustratingly stupid, and the plot was both damn-near nonexistent and as slow as molasses. After spending a week trying to force myself to finish this, I'm ready to move on.


Hopefully the next book I read will be better.