Kate’s Review: “Suburban Hell”

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Book: “Suburban Hell” by Maureen Kilmer

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A Chicago cul-de-sac is about to get a new neighbor…of the demonic kind.

Amy Foster considers herself lucky. After she left the city and moved to the suburbs, she found her place quickly with neighbors Liz, Jess, and Melissa, snarking together from the outskirts of the PTA crowd. One night during their monthly wine get-together, the crew concoct a plan for a clubhouse She Shed in Liz’s backyard–a space for just them, no spouses or kids allowed.

But the night after they christen the She Shed, things start to feel . . . off. They didn’t expect Liz’s little home-improvement project to release a demonic force that turns their quiet enclave into something out of a nightmare. And that’s before the homeowners’ association gets wind of it.

Even the calmest moms can’t justify the strange burn marks, self-moving dolls, and horrible smells surrounding their possessed friend, Liz. Together, Amy, Jess, and Melissa must fight the evil spirit to save Liz and the neighborhood . . . before the suburbs go completely to hell.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I gotta say, back when my husband and I were looking to buy a house (gosh, almost ten year ago), I had a very firm line I didn’t want to cross: we had to stay in the city limits. I wanted to make sure that we were bonafide city dwellers, not living in suburbia and all of the baggage and shady history that comes with it. Well, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that if we wanted an affordable house that was spacious, suburbia it was gonna have to be. And I do love my house and my neighborhood these days, with parks, a library, and a lot of nature within a mile of my house. But the baggage is still there at times, as it’s still suburbia, and sometimes that can feel isolating. Because of this, I was VERY interested in the horror book “Suburban Hell” by Maureen Kilmer. That and the fact it sounded a bit “Desperate Housewives”-esque with a healthy dose of demonic possession.

“Suburban Hell” has a similar aesthetic and tone as “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”, in that it follows some unlikely exorcists who have to do battle with an angry entity that has possessed their friend, all because of unsettled soil due to an in process ‘She Shed’. These suburban women juggle their kids, the neighborhood relationships and the supportive (and sometimes not so supportive) men in their lives, and provide support for each other. Our main character is Amy, an out of work social worker who first realizes that Liz, She-Shed owner and kind nurse, is acting off. The usual fare when it comes to possession novels starts to tick off: weird smells coming from Liz’s vicinity, dead animals popping up unexpectedly, otherwise inanimate objects becoming threatening, all while Amy and friends Melissa and Jess think there has to be a rational explanation, until there just isn’t one. It’s pretty standard and straight forward horror fare, and it’s admittedly pretty light on the scares. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable, as I did find it to be a breezy and fun read, even if it wasn’t particularly scary.

The thing that was the most effective for me in “Suburban Hell” was the depiction of suburban ennui and the highs and lows of being a stay at home mom. I loved that between the moments of demon battle and research, we got to see Amy cope with a life that she does love, but doesn’t fulfill her as much as she would like it to. The side comments about the way that her children would get into trouble, or the longing for a return to a life where she was working full time in the city, or the way that her loving and supportive husband just sometimes didn’t GET it, all of it really rang true to me, as did the themes about how important having friends who do get it can be. Lord knows that I have those moments where I will be taking my toddler to the park and having a ROUGH GO of it, but know that my neighborhood friend (also with a toddler in tow) is going to be there and we can commiserate, which makes it a little better. This was the kind of connection that made Amy’s dogged pursuit of trying to save Liz super believable, even when faced with supernatural threat to herself. The friendship at the heart of the book is the good vs evil conduit, and I love seeing a possession story be less about religion and more about the power of inner goodness of anyone from any background.

“Suburban Hell” may not provide the scares that an avid horror fan wants, but it is still very fun and entertaining. I think that it would be a great choice for someone who is looking for a little bit of ‘horror lite’ with the upcoming Halloween season, at certainly for the people in your life who are trying to navigate the intricacies of suburbia and the ‘horrors’ that can be found beneath a veneer of contentment.

Rating 7: Relatable and filled with humor, “Suburban Hell” is lighter on the scares, but still has a lot of fun, devilish moments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Suburban Hell” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but you would find a solid companion in “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”.

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