It’s Only Make Believe (2020) – J.S. Jack

Title:It’s Only Make Believe
Author:J.S. Jack
Publisher:Independently Published
Date published:2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:The author J.S. Jack sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review

Graceland ‘Grace’ Jones lives with her father ‘Pap’, an inventor of strange things, at the foot of Cheat Mountain in the Appalachians of West Virginia. It’s 1985 and the closest town is Huttonsville. In the trailer park at the edge of town lives her best friend, Robby Lee Huttons who has leukaemia. A very long time ago Robby’s family were the founders of Huttonsville, and lived in a mansion overlooking the town. That very same mansion is now inhabited by the mysterious Old Man Brown and is rumoured to be haunted, and the Huttons are no longer the prominent family they once were.

Grace’s mother had died when she was a baby, and she had grown up with a father obsessed with his inventions and very little knowledge as to who her mother was. Now a voracious reader, she often rode her bike to the edge of town where Ms Kerej the librarian would help fuel her love of books. If she wasn’t reading she was spending time with Robby and his family. Grace had always felt safe and comfortable with the Huttons, with the exception of Robby’s uncle, Sheriff Huttons, whose bad temper seemed to be contagious. In fact there are a number of strange characters in Huttonsville that Grace, the ‘mountain girl’, is used to avoiding.

The town is small and usually rather quiet, but recently rather disturbing things have been happening that seem downright horrifying. Between old stories of missing families, the discovery of some rather strange caves under the town, and the odd sighting of Big Foot and a supernatural creature referred to only as The Thing from the Woods, Huttonsville has a dark history that seems to be manifesting monsters.

“There are things in this valley that operate on a reasoning and logic no human can grasp, things outside of this universe that operate under a different set of rules. Things happen here that are so weird even the people involved often later deny what their memories and eyes clearly remember.”

In order to get to the bottom of these mysteries Grace, who is prone to strange dreams known as ‘parasomnias’, and Robby who wants to be a detective, start seriously listening to the ‘outlandish’ tales the locals have been telling for generations which takes them down a path of government conspiracies that lead back to the Civil War, the mysterious death of a young boy named Danny Tingler, and even stories that involve Grace’s own mother.

Jack’s narrative is a nostalgic tale of friendship set in the mid-1980’s in a town reminiscent of something right out of the imagination of Stephen King. The horrors present in the town of Huttonsville are of a supernatural nature , but also seem driven by an odd case of religious hysteria that is even evident in Grace’s dreams. The further Grace and Robby seem to venture, the more endearing and enduring their friendship becomes, and the more sinister the town appears. In fact the deeper they delve into the town’s past, the more questions seem to appear as to who, or perhaps what, is causing Huttonsville to turn into a monster of its own.

This novel is a deliciously atmospheric slice of Appalachian life, with an authentic language and dialect that draws the reader very deeply into a story that is more than just a horror, and not just a mystery with a supernatural twist. The novel is filled with a diverse assortment of characters whose lives are intertwined and complex and deeply entrenched in the history of a town on the verge of something so disturbing that even its inhabitants have taken to believing their own tall tales. It’s Only Make Believe is a charming and heart-warming tale of family, friendship, secrets and the horrors that hide in the shadows and sometimes even in plain sight.

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