Just in time for Halloween, Daniel Kraus delivers a truly disturbing tale chilling premise that takes place on our favorite holiday of the year.
The story is mostly told from the point of view Jody, an alienated teenager living a hard life in a poverty stricken neighborhood. Despite dealing with more tragedy and challenges than any kid should have to, he maintains a surprisingly good sense of humor along with a keen observational eye for the emotional state of the people around him.
Jody spends most of his time at the home of Robbie, a former high school football star who is now a deadbeat adult. He is almost always accompanied at Robbie’s house by Midget, his foster sister, and his friend, Dagmar (Dag for short).
When a grown man is living in squalor and hanging out with three children, then it’s a pretty safe bet that something’s not right with him. In Robbie’s case, this manifests itself in his plan to put poison and razorblades in candy that will be passed out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween…a plan that he recruits Jody, Dag, and Midge to help with.
Daniel Kraus fully commits to Jody’s unique voice, dialect, and narration, which I’ll admit was initially tough to read. After a while, however, the character really starts to grow on you. Like most kids who grow up experiencing hard times, Jody can often show maturity beyond his years hidden beneath his wise-cracking bravado. Through his eyes, we learn the heartbreaking source of Robbie’s downfall, which runs parallel to the unfair breaks life has constantly thrown at him and the people he loves the most.
We occasionally get a chapter from Dag’s perspective as she writes her sister, who is under psychiatric care. This offers a completely different (and somewhat chilling) perspective on tragedy and disillusionment worms its way through the characters’ lives. It’s one that the book could have actually used a lot more of, actually…which is unfortunately where many of the problems in Blood Sugar begin.
What Doesn’t Work
As much as Jody eventually started to grow on me, reading the story almost entirely in his dialect got old very fast. It would have been nice to see more from Dag’s unique perspective, especially since her story ends up giving us one of Blood Sugar‘s poorly earned twists. When Dag’s secrets are revealed, they feel more like a coda that was hastily tacked onto the story rather than a narrative seed coming to fruition.
The same goes for the book’s other big reveal, which is so contrived and nonsensical that it completely loses the full-circle poignancy it was going for.
Leading up to its chaotic finish, Blood Sugar moves at an excruciatingly slow pace. The story takes place over a few hours, but much of that time is filled with Jody’s redundant observations and stream-of-consciousness ramblings. He also never gives us a satisfactory reason for going along with Robbie’s plan, which is completely at odds with the affection he often shows towards the people around him. Jody may be a kid with some justifiable pent up anger, but he’s definitely not a murder…and he’s definitely smart enough to know that’s what he would be doing.
There actually is a lot to like about this book from a character perspective. Kraus does a fantastic job of providing the reader the ways different people can fall in life once they are neglected or hurt by the ones who should love/protect them.
Unfortunately, everything is framed within a story that endlessly meanders before taking a few sharp turns into a conclusion much more likely to elicit confusion and eye rolls rather than shock and sympathy. Combine that with the hard-to-read dialect/vernacular of the narrator, and Blood Sugar probably isn’t worth putting in your Halloween book bag this year.