Hell Followed With Us
- Author: Andrew Joseph White
- Genre: LGBTQ Horror
- Publication Date: June 7, 2022
- Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Thank you to NetGalley and Peachtree Teen for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: blood, murder, violence, transphobia, gore, domestic violence, religious abuse, bigotry, self-harm, attempted suicide, vomiting, deadnaming, ableism, body horror, grief
Prepare to die. His kingdom is near.
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.
But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.
Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.
A furious, queer debut novel about embracing the monster within and unleashing its power against your oppressors. Perfect for fans of Gideon the Ninth and Annihilation.
I’m sure it isn’t news when I say that I typically avoid horror books like the plague. But in my defense, I didn’t realize that this was horror until I had already gotten into the story, and it was just too good to pass up on.
This is a book that boils with barely repressed rage, grief, and other difficult emotions. And it’s chock-full of content warnings, so make sure to check them out before you start reading. After all that, if you’re able to handle what this book offers, it’s amazing and well worth the time to read it. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a fast read that gripped me from the very first page. And it’s absolutely horrifying, not because of the gore, but because I can absolutely see a bleak future with this happening, although I honestly hope not.
The story takes place in an apocalyptic near-future version of the United States that has been decimated by climate change, a breakdown of society, and a man-made virus that was released by Christian fundamentalists. In this world, we’re introduced to Benji, a trans boy who was raised in one of these cults. On his journey towards freedom of self-expression and acceptance, he’s held back by the beliefs that have been drummed into him and the refusal of the people around him to accept his identity. And even worse, he’s been intentionally infected with a strain of a virus that is actively changing him into a weapon, which the fundamentalists hope to use to change the world to their liking.
But what the cult didn’t count on was Benji himself, and his stunning drive to think for himself and his strength of will. Because as he attempts to escape from this cult, he encounters a group of queer teenagers, and strives to find his own place in this society that is so different from the one he’s running from. Things aren’t easy for him, and my heart broke for this kid so many times. But I still had hope that things would work out for him, even though I had no idea how that could happen.
There’s plenty of other characters in this story, and we get POV chapters from two more. I loved seeing what was going on in their heads, and how they cope with what is happening to them, especially the autistic character. Although there were only a few, it was so interesting to see how differently each of the characters think, and to get some insight into the motivation behind their actions. And perhaps the best part for me was the found family aspect of this story—Benji is running away from a mother and group of people who don’t accept who he is, who don’t even bother to find out who he is, and finds a new group of people who completely understand him.
This story gave me so much insight into the struggle that trans people face. Like, I’m aware of the societal and family issues that they often face, but Benji’s POV let me see inside the process of accepting himself and how difficult it is simply to be trans.
“In places like the ALC, after Judgment Day, it’s easy to forget you’re trans. Or maybe a better way to word it would be, it gets easier for me to forget the pain of being trans. Being transgender is who you aren, and the pain is what the outside does to you. The pain is what happens when you and the world go for each other’s throats. In the ALC, I almost forget that being trans can hurt.”
It’s an excessively violent and gory story, but when I sit back and think about it, it isn’t far-fetched at all. Trans and queer people face all kinds of issues similar to these, especially among parents who hold strong Christian beliefs. And with recent legislation being passed around the country, I can’t help but think it’s going to get worse. However, these bills won’t stop being from being trans, being who they are, but rather they’ll stop them from receiving gender-affirming care and support. And we know that never works out well.
“I thought I was tired of an Angel’s womanhood, of loyalty and purity, of all the terrible things they tried to cram into our heads. But that was never enough, all the excuses were never enough, and dysphoria had to wrap its hands around my neck and hold me down, baptism in drowning, before I faced the fact that living as a girl would kill me long before the Angels did.”
The topic of dysphoria comes up a lot. Not just gender dysphoria, but the fact that Benji is sick and literally turning into something else, something not quite human, and considered to be a monster. It’s painful to see him buckle under the weight of this dysphoria, and all I wanted was for him to find a place and a happy ending.
“My dysphoria comes from the way other people see me, and I can’t help but look at myself from the outside.”
Having lived through a pandemic, and seen the way that it can bring out the absolute worst in society, this book is a scary new thing to think about. And the scariest part wasn’t the gore, wasn’t the abuse, wasn’t the transphobia, but rather the Christian fundamentalists and the beliefs they cling to. It’s not all that different from these groups today, and it’s the kind of thought that made me struggle to sleep. They’re not accepting of any beliefs or ideas outside their own outdated and strongly held beliefs, and it inevitably causes pain and suffering for those who don’t fit the mold—ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, and LGBTQ people.
“It’s what the Angels have always done to humanity—what society has always tried to do to us. Always taking, always sinking in its teeth.”
This is an amazing read, and I couldn’t put It down. It’s fast-paced with plenty of action, and some incredibly plot twists. Although it hasn’t changed my mind on horror as a genre, this is a standout.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 9
Categories: Book Review
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