“The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek” by Rhett McLaughlin, Link Neal and Lance Rubin. New York: Crown, 2019. 326 pages, $26 (hardcover).
Good books have good bones. They need a strong plot, well-formed characters and decent writing. If you can check off those three things, your novel has a shot. Fortunately, Rhett McLaughlin, Link Neal and Lance Rubin do all three. To understand my review, you also need to know that Rhett and Link have a YouTube show called “Good Mythical Morning” – it’s a talk show/comedy-type thing – and they are rather famous for it and a few other projects.
The characters here are really fun. You can easily see Rhett in Rex, and Link in Leif, if you have been watching their show for any length of time. As a mythical beast (what their fans are called), there were probably things in the story that were funnier to me because of those connections. That being said, these Easter egg-type details are not at all necessary to enjoy the story. Rex and Leif are two kids who, along with their other best friend Alicia, find themselves in a spot of trouble after a shoot for their film does not go very well. They interrupt the blessing of the meal by both religious figures of the town, and Alicia accidentally knocks a powerful man into his grill – burning both his hands. Their film is forbidden to be finished by their parents, but Rex, Leif and Alicia decide to finish filming the last few scenes they have of “PolterDog.”
This starts off the storyline, and Alicia is sent to The Whitewood School, the reform school headed by none other than the man whom she caused to be burned. Rex and Leif are devastated and want to find a way to save her. The school has a record and connections so entrenched in the town that people are willing to ignore the few deaths that have occurred over the past years since its creation. At first, Rex and Leif are trying to decide if they should somehow save her, but they realize that it is just a school and surely she is fine. That quickly changes, however, as they learn more about the school.
NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein has just arrived in town to work on a documentary about kidney stones because everyone in Bleak Creek has them – a LOT of them. She’s decided something is fishy – and as her GramGram still lives there and her mother grew up there, she goes back to spend a few weeks interviewing her grandmother and others. She becomes wrapped up in the mystery of the Whitewood School when she learns about Rex and Leif’s incident at the barbecue, and also the fact that her childhood best friend and cousin also attended the school.
Teaming up with Rex, Leif and another character that joins in along the way, the team begins investigating the school. What they find is mysterious and horrifying. Rex and Leif become determined to rescue their friend. From this point on, the story gets more complicated, with plenty of twists and turns. It’s got horror, comedy and friendship!
What I liked most about this novel was the setting and the friendship. Coming from a small Kentucky town myself, if you like horror you tend to think there could be an odd secret society hiding in plain sight fairly easily. Small southern towns tend to have a religious grounding, and this is very apparent with both Rex and Leif’s parents. We also learn things about Alicia as the book goes along that make us understand her family a little more in terms of a southern town and the issues some faced, even more so 28 years ago in 1992 when this is set.
Rex and Leif, just like Rhett and Link in real life, have a great friendship. They argue, they bicker and they get mad at each other. But they also support each other even when that becomes complicated and messy in the minds of teenage boys. Especially when a girl gets added into the mix! The two are great comedic relief, and as they are struggling to figure out who they are individually, their friendship also begins to change. I think having two male characters that are such good friends as the main focus of the story is perfection. It is something missing in many books. Don’t get me wrong: We have lots of strong male characters, but I think that honest friendship piece is missing. There were just a few things that bothered me. Sometimes the story skipped around and it was hard to know exactly what happened – but it quickly would tie back in. It also slowed occasionally on the pace of the story.
I must say that often I can predict where a story is going. Although I knew this was in the genre of horror, having watched many episodes of Rhett and Link on “Good Mythical Morning,” I just couldn’t fathom the idea of it. They did a wonderful job of surprising me, and in the end I did not predict a great deal of what would occur. Even when I thought I had figured it out, it was a bit more complicated and different. Considering Edmonson County also had healing springs, I just loved everything about that part of the plot. It was a nice change. I hope they write more books in the future!
Rhett and Link grew up in North Carolina in a town that helped inspire the setting for Bleak Creek. They also have an award-winning weekly podcast – “Ear Biscuits,” and they wrote their “Rhett & Link’s Book of Mythicality.” They work together at Mythical Entertainment, their creation/company, but do actually live separately with their own wives, children and dogs in Los Angeles.
– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, first-year experience instructor, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.