Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Come As You Are: A Short Novel and Nine Stories is a collection of horror tales for young adult readers, written by Steven Ramirez. Being twelve years old was not the idyllic thing that most grownups remember it being. Ask Ivan, a middle school kid, whose life is circumscribed by the bullies in his middle school, and the high school skateboarders who make a point of evicting him and his best friend, Ollie, whenever they try to practice their moves at Gasher’s Park. The two seventh-graders would rush off to the park the minute school ended, making the most of that free time before the high school kids came. On this particular afternoon, however, their usual plans went awry when Ollie realized that he had left his math homework back at school. Ollie was worried about flunking math, and the teacher had written down special instructions on the homework page. Ivan was surprised to see his friend so upset over homework, but he agreed to go back with him to pick it up.
While Ollie was rummaging through his locker for the homework, Ivan began exploring the now-deserted hallways. He was particularly intrigued by this one section of the school that was unused and in disarray. Kids liked to think that it was haunted, and one locker in particular had this weird red stain on it that seemed to morph into different shapes as Ivan stared at it. Ivan decided that it was the perfect time to check that locker out; his attention was fixed on that locker as he approached it, but then he heard Hershey’s voice as he demanded to know what Ivan thought he was doing back there. The elderly janitor slammed the open locker door shut and spun the combination lock’s dial a few times. He warned Ivan to stay away from it, but Ivan’s curiosity had been captured by that eerie hallway, especially that locker, and he was determined to check it out.
Steven Ramirez’s collection of horror stories for young adult readers, Come As You Are: A Short Novel and Nine Stories, is a dark and macabre foray into a world which has shifted just that much from the normal world to enable the intense and awful things that happen there to become, somehow, believable. While that part of me which delights in the weird tales comprising Rod Serling’s classic series, Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, was quite happily absorbed in reading the short stories Ramirez presents, my favorite piece would have to be his dark, coming of age novella, Come As You Are. Ivan’s innocent and unwitting flirtation with the demonic is first-rate supernatural horror. Ramirez’s characters are beautifully defined, particularly Ivan and Hershey, the school janitor, who turns out to be much more than that. His plot is beautifully scripted and the suspense and supernatural dread emanating throughout this story make it impossible to put down until the last page is read. Come As You Are: A Short Novel and Nine Stories is highly recommended.