Book Review: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of good science fiction, as well as a lot of not-so-good. However, there are also a lot of truly great science fiction novels. These are works that, while tethered to the time and place to which they were written, also connect past and future together. Great science fiction invites us to examine the complexity of our choices and how our interactions contribute to the future. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is one of those great novels. While the writing style is very much reminiscent of a work of sci-fi from the 1950’s, its ideas and the implications for the future are what make this work a memorable book. This is a novel that I’ve been intending to read for quite some time, having enjoyed both The Day of the Triffids and Out of the Deeps. In a radical departure from Wyndham’s other novels, set in present-day England, The Chrysalids takes us to a future Earth, one that has experienced the devastation from nuclear war. Unlike the earlier two works, which both have a rather straight-forward plot, Wyndham takes a much more philosophical and thoughtful approach in his examination of religious extremism directed at anyone who is deformed or mutated. On a larger scale, this is a novel that examines the horrors of judging someone who is different.

The Chrysalids (1955) by John Wyndham, Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

This is accomplished early in the novel as our protagonist David recalls his formative years and his encounters with deviations of all kinds and the people who inflict laws upon them. David has grown up in a community that views any deviation from the norm as wrong. It is a society whose tenets include “KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD” and “BLESSED IS THE NORM.” David finds that he is often looked at with trepidation simply because he is left-handed. I liked that these moments were done through the lens of a child’s frank and less biased perspective. The dogma is all around him, but when he happens upon another child who has a minor abnormality, he quickly begins to realize how unfair and cruel his society is.

The first half or so of the novel acts as more a collection of vignettes than an actual novel. This isn’t bad, as this structure helps build our understanding of this world and the prejudices of its people. We also learn more about our protagonist David and his secret abilities, as well as the other children who share them. David and a number of others in his community possess a form of telepathy, commonly referred to as “thought-shapes.” This deviation of theirs is kept secret, as the only adult who knows is David’s uncle, who works diligently in making sure his nephew doesn’t risk exposure.

Though David serves as a window into this world, the characters are at their most interesting as an integrated collection of minds, all communicating and watching out for one another. Wyndham’s representation of telepathy is interesting. Rather than about the reading of minds, it’s more about ideas and feelings being pooled together under a shared consciousness. Those that possess the gift are able to communicate mentally over great distances, but they are at a disadvantage in not being able to read the minds of neurotypical people. This helps create a nice level of tension as it often leaves David and his friends in the dark with regards to just how much the elders of the community actually know. We are also completely clueless as to what actually happens to those discovered with deviations. Are they killed, kept in isolation somewhere, or perhaps something far more sinister?

While I found The Chrysalids to be an important work of science fiction, my one complaint would be how often the other characters felt underdeveloped. This is definitely a work whose strengths are plot and atmosphere, rather than deep characterization. That’s not to say they are boring, but I did find them unmemorable. A lot of the relationships appear to be developed off page, so while it keeps the focus on the novel more on action, characterization does suffer as a result.

John Wyndham

Despite being written over half a century ago, The Chrysalids holds up just as well as any contemporary piece of science fiction. While rooted in the time it was written, during the post-war years of British austerity, this is a work of fiction that also can be applied to contemporary themes, such as religious extremism and acceptance of others who are different. Wyndham’s world of mutants and telepaths feels sadly believable, demonstrating how beliefs can either unify us, or completely divide us. The novel also serves as a frightening reminder of present-day horrors, such as the threat of nuclear war and global disaster. Science fiction stories continue to not only inspire but also serve as cautionary tales as to the choices we make.

“The essential quality of life is living’ the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution; and we are part of it.”


Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.

Book Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Horror fiction has always been one of my favorite genres, particularly because there are so many different ways it can play with your mind and emotions. For instance, it could be a story that plays for more shock value, bordering on the ridiculous. Watch any slasher film from the 80’s for some great examples. However, my favorite brand of horror is when the threats are more firmly rooted in reality. One of my all-time favorite examples of this would have to be Stephen King’s Misery. While the master of horror has done his fair share of otherworldly monsters, Misery is the story of a man held captive by a psychotic fan who has trapped the protagonist within her house, making it a terrifying journey from beginning to end. A Cabin at the End of the World manages to also accomplish this feat, and if a novel is going to give me nightmares, it would be this one. This is the second book I’ve read by Paul Tremblay, the first being A Head Full of Ghosts, a brilliant work inspired by paranormal fiction, such as The Exorcist. As much as I enjoyed it, I feel like I loved this novel just a bit more. Just as Tremblay reinvented the exorcism story, here he has put a unique twist on a story of home invasion. Ultimately, this is a book that focuses on two possible outcomes, both of which are absolutely horrifying.

Cabin at the End of the World (2018) by Paul Tremblay, Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Seven-year old Wen and her adoptive parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin in the middle of the New England woods. The nearest neighbor is miles away, and Wen is spending her day catching grasshoppers for observation. As Wen conducts her study, a strange man unexpectantly appears seemingly from the middle of nowhere. While Leonard is the largest individual young Wen has ever seen, he appears friendly and wins her over by helping her in the pursuit of catching the grasshoppers. Leonard and Wen talk and play, until suddenly, he tells her that three of his friends will be there soon and that it is paramount that Wen and her dads let Leonard and his friends into their cabin. Three more strangers arrive, carrying what appear to be strange, makeshift weapons. As Wen rushes inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.” Naturally, the family refuses the strangers entry, believing this to be a hate crime. The four strangers manage to overpower Wen’s parents, and soon the family finds themselves tied up and at their mercy. Leonard then begins to explain to them that he and his friends have been chosen to stop the apocalypse, and the only way to stop it is for the family to voluntarily sacrifice one of their own.

It pains me not to explore every method that Tremblay uses in having me question what is real. The obvious answer is that these four individuals are insane, playing on cult mentality. Every single event that happens throughout the novel can be scrutinized, explained away. Tremblay’s genius lies in the fact that he meticulously builds a story that feeds into paranoia and disbelief until events reach a breaking point. The characters in this book all have depth and complexity. Leonard, the leader of this group, takes no pleasure in the task he has been appointed to perform. His “mission” is one of pain, driven blind by his own zealotry. While he feels compassion for this family, whom he has asked to make a difficult choice to prevent the apocalypse, his mission is paramount above all. Convincing arguments are made on both sides, and there are moments when Leonard is clearly struggling. Tremblay leaves a lot of room to question whether these signs that the end is coming are real, or whether as Andrew argues, they are mere coincidences.

What makes this novel a true work of horror is that the two possible outcomes are both terrible. If the doomsday group is wrong, then that means all of the suffering of this family is for nothing. However, if there’s even the smallest chance that the world is coming to an end without a sacrifice, then that thought is pretty terrifying as well. As the novel progresses, doubts begin to enter into each side’s beliefs. Eric, who sustained a concussion early in the novel and who has had childhood struggles with his own Catholic upbringing, begins to question if Leonard and his group are right. Several shocking moments occur in this novel, and ultimately, you realize this isn’t a story about which side is right. This is a story about the choices we make when we are unsure of the outcome.

Paul Tremblay

You may have heard of this book through its film adaptation, as M. Night Shyamalan has recently adapted it for film. I’m curious to see what changes take place with the story and whether or not I will enjoy it as much. My instincts tell me that the original source material makes for the better experience. Paul Tremblay continues to impress, and believe me, Cabin at the End of the World is an addicting read that will fuel your nightmares.

“They share another long look. This one is reserved for ill-fated observers in the moments before impending, inescapable calamity, whether it be natural disaster or violent failure of humanity; a look of resigned melancholy and awe, unblinking in the face of a revealed, horrific, sacred truth. And they realize again, in this darkest hour of the darkest day, they remain alone, fundamentally alone.”


Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.

Book Review: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

At the age of 24, author James Baldwin made the decision to leave the United States and traveled to Paris. He wanted to escape the racism around him, while also developing his skills as a writer outside of an African-American context. David, the young protagonist of Giovanni’s Room, takes a similar path to Baldwin. However, this is not a novel about race. Rather, this is a story about finding love, and more importantly, about finding yourself. David escapes to Paris as a voyage of self-exploration, while also escaping the toxic masculinity he observes in his father. Although this novel is not autobiographical, it does draw on Baldwin’s experiences and inspiration in the city of love. Giovanni’s Room is such an important novel of LGBTQ literature due to the book’s open exploration of sexuality and bisexuality.

Giovanni’s Room (1956) by James Baldwin, Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Prior to making this trip, we learn that David had a sexual encounter with a male friend, whom he immediately ostracizes from his life. Upon arriving in Paris, he begins an affair with a girl named Hella. When David starts to plan a life with her, Hella leaves for Spain in order to work on herself, leaving David in need of company. This leads him to become intimate with an Italian bartender named Giovanni. The couple form an instant connection, resulting in a passionate love affair, and in David moving in to the titular room. David hates himself and grows to loathe his feelings for Giovanni. Yet, he is forever caught within his lover’s gravitational pull. The romance becomes further complicated by the imminent return of Hella into David’s life. Can David work out his feelings and finally stop running away from himself?

While reading this novel, I had to keep reminding myself that it was written during a time when being gay was illegal in most countries. Baldwin writes with such passionate energy, that it becomes easy to be swept up in David and Giovanni’s tumultuous romance. The writing is so evocative and poetic, that it becomes so easy to get lost when the waves come crashing down. There’s an openness here to homosexuality that had never been done prior to this novel. The message is so resoundingly clear that love transcends time and place, as well as social conventions. The words could easily apply to a straight couple. All that matters here is that these two men love each other. Unfortunately, David’s internal conflict with accepting himself forever destroys their connection.

“People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.”

We experience the passion and desire that neither of the men can deny but, at the same time, you can’t turn away from David’s inner turmoil. This is more than a novel about the love between a same-sex couple. David’s story is one of self-loathing and denial. He was raised in a country that saw his feelings as wrong, so he can never fully connect to Giovanni. He transforms him into a monster, and it is utterly heartbreaking to read about is regret from a relationship that is so normal. In fact, David never finds where he truly fits in. He doesn’t want to return to his old life in America, but he grows to hate France as he is uncomfortable living in a country where being openly gay is acceptable.

As readers, we feel devastated because Baldwin manages to lift us up into the upper echelons of love but then pulls us back down to Earth with a violent crash. This novel is such a raw exploration into sexuality and gender identity. David often openly criticizes the men who are embracing their sexuality, while also taking advantage of them. This is demonstrated by his friendship with the aging Jacques, whom David uses for his own means but is openly disgusted by his friend’s behavior. The toxic masculinity of his father comes on full display as David views his friend’s effeminate ways as an insult. While not completely autobiographical, Baldwin draws on his own experiences as a gay man living in both America and France.

James Baldwin, Photo Credit: Ted Thai

At only 150 pages, Giovanni’s Room might be a short read but there are a lot of themes explored here. My meager review barely scratches the surface, and I can’t reveal more without spoiling what happens. Suffice to say, the writing is fearless and compelling, forcing you to feel empowered and heartbroken in a matter of paragraphs. This is one of the most honest novels I’ve ever read in understanding true love and pain. I want to believe that much has changed since the 1950’s, but reading this novel is a reminder that the fight for equality continues to be an ongoing battle.

“If you cannot love me, I will die. Before you came I wanted to die, I have told you many times. It is cruel to have made me want to live only to make my death more bloody.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.

February 2023 Reading Wrap-Up

Month two of 2023 is officially a memory. Unfortunately, February was not a stellar reading month for yours truly. However, I did manage to read three incredible novels, which I will now briefly discuss.

Books Read:

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

If you are looking for a complex work of science fiction with tremendous world-building and characters, this is your book. However, if you are wanting something a little more intimate that explores human identity, well this is still a great choice. Micaiah Johnson has managed to craft a great work of dystopian fiction, while also serving as a multiverse-spanning adventure.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

I have a deep and abiding love for dark and surreal horror fiction. From the first page, Catriona Ward plunges you headfirst into a mind-bending story about a man, his daughter, and a talking cat who live in this insanely creepy house not far from where a horrific murder took place. You’ll think you’ve figured it all out, but trust me, this novel delivers more twists than a roller coaster.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni’s Room might be a short read, but there is so much depth. This was my first experience with James Baldwin, and the writing is so beautiful and compelling. This is an author who can makes you feel the power of love in one sentence, and then bring you crashing down in the next. I understand why this book is considered the pinnacle of LGBTQ fiction. I’ll be posting a full review later this week.

Currently Reading:

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

2023 Goals and Challenges:

Books Read: 10/60

Books Reviewed: 8/10

Classics Remaining for Classics Club: 1/14

Translated Works: 3/10

TBR Challenge: 1/12

Read Christie Challenge: 1/12


As I reflect back on February, I discover I’m more satisfied than I originally thought. I read a fascinating sci-fi novel, an outstanding work of surrealist horror, and a beautiful, yet heart-wrenching classic. I’m still on track to complete my goals, so no worries over here.

What’s Next:

I’ve been reading The Cabin at the End of the World, as it has recently been adapted to screen by M. Night Shyamalan (no spoilers please). John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids is also proving to be an interesting read. Hopefully, I’ll continue to find phenomenal books to enjoy as we prepare for Spring.

Tell me about books you read in February. What are your reading plans for March? Let me know with a comment below!

Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

If you’re anything like me and have a deep and passionate love for psychological horror fiction, then you need to read The Last House on Needless Street. This is an extremely dark and twisted story that I promise will grip you from the moment you start reading. Most works of horror build tension slowly, allowing you to dip your toe into the proverbial pool before submerging you. This book shoves you into the deep end the moment you crack it open. I mean this in the best possible way. Good horror fiction not only scares readers, but creates a feeling of dread, and that’s exactly what this novel achieves. As I write this review, I’m actually wary of using the term “horror” to describe this novel, and unfortunately, I can’t tell you why without spoilers. What I can say is that Catriona Ward has delivered a multi-layered novel where just when you think you’ve figured it out, you discover that there’s a whole next layer beneath.

The Last House on Needless Street (2021) by Catriona Ward (and Snickers), Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

The story primarily takes place in a dilapidated and boarded up house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a wooded area of northern Washington. This house is home to three individuals. Ted Bannerman is unemployed, has a bit of a drinking problem, and suffers from quite a few mental health problems. His daughter, Lauren, comes to visit but is always ordered to stay inside. Her relationship with Ted is a chaotic one, often quite tense and violent. The third member of the household is Oliva the cat, who believes her life’s purpose is to protect Ted, and in her spare time, takes inspiration from the Bible. When a woman named Dee moves into the abandoned house next door, Ted’s somewhat routine life begins spiraling. Over a decade ago when Dee was a teenager, her little sister mysteriously disappeared while her family was on vacation at the local lake. Dee has made it her life’s mission to find her sister and bring her kidnapper to justice.

That synopsis covers the general outline of the story, but it’s also useless, because nothing in The Last House on Needless Street is what it seems. In fact, Ward’s most impressive feat here is that she keeps readers guessing from the first page to the last, even after revealing truths that change everything. I was impressed with myself because I thought I had it all figured out early on, but Ward has constructed an onion, with multiple layers to peel back and try to understand. Who are the Gods that Ted has buried in the woods? What is the mystery behind Lauren’s sporadic presence and where does she go when she has to disappear? Who are the angry green boys living in the attic? Ward has created a surreal masterpiece with multiple points-of-view, time shifts, and so much creepiness with the construction of this dark and mysterious house.

Ward uses unreliable narrators extremely well. Ted has moments when he remembers specific moments from his childhood, and these details might hold important clues to figuring out what is happening. As a child, Ted suffered from severe abuse by his mother. He also suffers from blackout moments when he does go out alone. Usually, Ted goes out with the intention of finding a mother for his daughter. Sometimes, it’s to visit the person he refers to as “the bug man.”

Dee is driven by her obsession to solve her sister’s disappearance and while she seems to be in control, she has moments of losing touch with reality. She is often afraid of going to sleep because “the red birds will come flying into her head.” Lauren’s behavior toward her father is so extremely violent, that clearly she has her own mental health problems. Of course, can we really trust the talking cat who takes her inspiration from the Bible? Nobody and nothing can truly be taken at face value, and you know that something very bad is happening within the walls of this house. Everything in The Last House on Needless Street is old, dirty, or broken. The same applies to the psyches of its characters. The creepy dilapidation of the outside world perfectly mirrors their mental state. No one is who they appear to be, a fact that is lost on them. Ted, for example, is unfamiliar to himself:

“I took the mirrors down some years ago because they upset Lauren. But I don’t need a mirror to know how I look. Her words stung me. Big, fat. My belly is a rubber sack. It hangs like it has been strapped there. I’m getting bigger all the time. I can’t keep track of it. I knock things over, I bounce off doorways. I’m not used to how much space I take up in the world.”

Catriona Ward | ANTONIO OLMOS Photographer
Catriona Ward, Photo Credit: Antonio Olmos

Ward is an extremely talented storyteller, as seen by how the pieces fit into place. The atmosphere in this novel is so dark that it feels as though it was inspired by the works of Shirley Jackson. Ward masterfully plays with your perception of reality, and once you finish this book, your feelings towards these characters will have changed so much. This labyrinthine narrative will pull the rug from under you multiple times, sending you reeling deeper into the darkness.

“ ‘The first time I tried to run,’ she says, ‘he took my feet. He broke them between two boards with a mallet. The second time I tried, you came out of my mind.’ “

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.