How to Survive Your Murder by Danielle Valentine 🎃

Billed as Scream meets Happy Death Day, I got Danielle Valentine’s (she/her) How to Survive Your Murder as soon as it was available at the library. I felt hesitant; would I be satisfied by a YA horror novel that makes references to slasher tropes that were iconic thirty years before her target audience of 12-17 (per her website) was born? Let’s dig (a grave) in to this 2022 novel blurbed by R.L. Stine…

Alice loves horror movies. As a high school student in Kansas, there isn’t much scary around except, well, high school. But it’s fine because she has three good friends, a dynamic sister, and a dude who works out at her dad’s gym who is just the right balance of quirky and hot. And he may be looking at her.

In order to process a sister who overshadows everything and general shyness, Alice navigates real life by thinking about the rules to survive a horror movie murder: no sex, no drugs or drinking, and no saying you’ll be right back. Also, don’t go upstairs or in the basement, do not enter the cornfield, etc. If you’re a horror movie fan, you’ll recognize pretty much all of Alice’s thoughts.

One problem I had was a nagging question: who is Valentine’s audience? For example, if you recognize the three rules of surviving a horror movie, that’s because you’ve seen Scream. You’re a horror fan. So, why does Valentine feel the need to explain where her references come from*? The more she did it, the faster I found myself reading to get back to the plot, and speed-reading is only exacerbated by the simpler sentences used in YA. You don’t really need to sit there and ponder, right?

Alice heads to a high school party in a cornfield, and because she watches horror movies, she’s smart enough to avoid the entry maze and head in the back entrance. Her sister, Claire, is not. Off into the corn Claire goes. Except there’s someone with a chainsaw out there, who swiftly deconstructs the hostess. Then, Alice watches as Owen, a pimply janitor at her dad’s gym, comes stumbling out of the corn, pulls Claire’s knife out of his side, and uses it to stab Claire. She dead on page 39. We know who killed Claire — so now where is this going? Valentine’s cool twist adds tension, so I kept reading eagerly.

Well, I did stumble a bit. We’ve got characters Claire, Chloe, Erin Cleary. Then we get to the section that repeatedly says Erin and Owen, which sound the same. Authors, will you never learn?

A year goes by. Claire is dead, Alice is depressed, she’s neglected her friends who go on to make a horror podcast without her, the parents break up, and dad’s an alcoholic. It’s the day of Owen’s trial for murdering Claire. Evidence includes a manifesto he left open on a computer at the public library, stating that he planned to kill Chloe (the dead party hostess), Erin, and Sierra. Three basic high school girls vs. the outsider who works at the gym. Alice will testify as a witness; she saw Owen murder her sister, her sister the hero who prevented Erin and Sierra from dying by trying to stop Owen with her little switchblade.

Did someone say Valentine’s book is like Scream meets Happy Death Day? It’s more like Scream meets It’s a Wonderful Life. Alice hits her head in the courthouse bathroom and is zipped to the past on the night of the murder where she meets a self-declared angel who looks like Sidney from Scream. You must learn something before midnight, Alice is told, something about that day in the cornfield. Naturally, Claire is still alive, and Alice spends most of her time keeping her sister that way. As a result, more students die, and Alice suspects everyone along the way. Who can a final girl trust?

I saw the ending of How to Survive Your Murder from so, so far away, but if I were age 12-17, maybe I would not have. Still, this is a book for horror movie lovers that is as easy to digest as movie theater popcorn.

*If you’re hardcore, check out Stephen Graham Jones’s book Demon Theory. It has loads of horror movie references, which are footnoted and make a great list of movies to-be-watched, though I warn you I am of the opinion that his plots make no sense for about 60% of each book.

25 comments

  1. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that deconstructed other books/movies I’d read, was familiar with (well maybe Jane Austen). I’m not sure if I was 12 I’d realise that was going on. Ok, at whatever age I generally have to have the connections explained to me.
    It sounds like the author was having fun. I hope she found enough kids in her target audience that also found it fun.

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    • I think I’ve seen several books and movies about a character who loves romance books or movies, so they try to live within the context of romance tropes and how things “should” proceed.

      12 does sound young to me, too, but I can also see giving this novel to my niece, who is 13, and her just eating it up — and probably surprised by the ending.

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  2. Are 12-year-olds watching enough horror movies to get these references? This sounded kind of fun and interesting until the bathroom head injury. That seems kind of over the top. And I feel like I already have a pretty solid guess of what really happened!

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    • I’m not sure they would get the references, and perhaps that’s why the author chose to explain them a bit, which I found patronizing, but I can see how a younger reader would need the help. So, now that I’m thinking about, it was a balanced novel considering the target age of reader!

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        • I’m glad someone else notices it. Sometimes, I worry that I don’t “get” YA because some adult bloggers whom I’ve known for years still read and love YA. However, I’ve narrowed down my dislikes and feel good about having examples instead of a general curmudgeonly demeanor.

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          • I have read a few YA books here and there that I really enjoyed but for the most part I just accept that I’m not the target audience. But there are lots of adult novels that I’m not the target audience for either!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. There, you made me read a horror novel review, and actually enjoy it – the review I mean!

    Your point, “Then we get to the section that repeatedly says Erin and Owen, which sound the same” – these don’t really sound much the same to me. Erin is (usually) female and Owen male. I’m a bit into Celtic / Gaelic names so these are very familiar. But, your comment femlnds me of one of the reasons I don’t so much like SF and Fantasy. All those unfamiliar names to remember and distinguish. And before you accuse me of ethnocentricity – which you would have a right to do – let me say that It’s different if I meet people with unfamiliar names. Then I have a face to put the name to and I’m perfectly happy to (ememher who they are even though they are not John or Mary. (BTW, I do take your point. My Californian friend writes to me of her friends who include Marian and Marilyn . I don’t know them so I struggle to differentiate them – and let’s forget the two, or is it three, Debbies!

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  4. Speaking of Stephen Graham Jones – he has another book coming soon! And I totally agree re: his plots not making sense LOL

    I saw Scream a long time ago, and like you, I wonder who the audience for this book is. It sounds o Ya-ish for me, ya know?

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    • I get so frustrated with Stephen Graham Jones because he has these brilliant ideas and then he crosses the line into something abstract in his head that doesn’t make sense on paper.

      I saw Scream when it came out! There is another one coming out soon. This book is definitely YA, but it reads really fast and I like the horror connection. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have picked it up.

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    • The cover is so oddly girly! I would have loved this book when I was 14. Stephen King is actually pretty scary, so I’m surprised you gave it a go. I read Misery and cried when the nice young police officer was run over with the lawn mower. I also read Pet Semetary, which has some sexual stuff (consensual) that was too grown up for me.

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  5. I think this is part of why I no longer read much YA – there is a level of explaining that feels unnecessary to me now, and can come across as patronising, but I think it would have been helpful when I was a teenager.

    (As for Erin and Owen, they sound extremely different to me! I just spent about a minute saying “Erin, Owen, Erin, Owen” out loud trying to make them sound similar and failing. Owen is a fairly common name here, so maybe that helps?)

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    • I love that I have people all over the globe saying two names aloud. It feels like some sort of weird connection. LOL!

      I have an adult horror/comedy coming next week that I think would teach just about anyone what it’s like to live in the Midwest in the U.S.

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  6. This sounds like it might be a good introduction to teens to horror movies. We need those. As an adult, who’s loved horror movies since I was a kid, I think I will skip this one. It sounds like it might still be entertaining but since I have limited time as of recently, I think I’ll find something else to read or just watch a metric crap ton of horror movies.
    Like I texted you recently, I watched Rob Zombie’s Munsters and it was fine. I’m not a hardcore Munsters fan though, (I prefer the Addams Family), and someone who is like my husband, was not impressed. He had a few compliments but ultimately fell asleep during it.

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