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.