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23492624 I received this e-Arc from NetGalley and Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: September 9th, 20015

Synopsis: Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.

But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place.

Creepy, horrifying, twisted, and deeply disturbing. Those are just a few adjectives that come to mind after reading Brother. But this is a good thing, because this book has everything a great horror novel should have. Plenty of psychological suspense, a few graphically gory scenes and seriously demented and complicated characters who you pray you’ll never meet in real life. This book was so atmospheric that I had Dueling Banjos from the movie Deliverance stuck in my head the entire time I was reading it.

Set in the 1980s, the first part of the story focuses on this evil and monstrous family unit, who kidnap young girls, and well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. The family is led by parents Wade and Claudine, who definitely aren’t Ward and June Cleaver types. Then there’s the seriously deviant oldest brother Ray, who likes to be called Reb, (short for Rebel) followed by Misty Dawn, who’s a young version of Stevie Nicks. Rounding out the group is young Michael who was kidnapped at the age of four and “adopted” by the Morrows. The beginning of the book alternates chapters detailing the family’s history, with ones exploring the early periods of Reb and Michael’s relationship as well as that of their sister Lauralyn, who is mysteriously absent from the present day passages.

Without venturing into spoiler territory let’s just say the family dynamic is extremely complicated and adds another layer of darkness to the story. While the majority of the plot revolves around Michael and Reb, you actually find out quite a bit about the other Morrows. The only exception is Wade where there’s not a lot said about except that he’s a Vietnam vet. The only family members who you feel any sympathy for are the two sisters and Michael. The latter especially evokes torn feelings. While he’s participated in his “adopted” family’s evil pastime, it sickens him and he struggles with feelings of guilt. He longs to escape from them and enter the real world, but he’s afraid of what will happen to Misty Dawn if he leaves. Michael is also firmly under Reb’s thumb. While I’m not a psychologist, it’s not difficult to see that Michael suffers from PTSD and Stockholm Syndrome. When he meets Alice, these feelings rise up even more so. While he tries to protect Alice from his evil family, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that their paths will cross, especially since Reb is involved and manipulating people and events.

There are a few scenes that are extremely graphic which not only detail what is done to the poor girls, but also the abuse that Michael and his sisters are forced to endure. However, Ahlborn employs psychological suspense as the main device in mesmerizing her readers. 

Ahlborn masterfully combines the themes of horror and abuse, with a more traditional coming-of-age story. The result is an intense and shocking read that is definitely not for the faint of heart. If you enjoy true horror with a southern gothic flare, I highly recommend this. Just don’t read it right before bedtime. Or while you’re on a road trip. Or camping.