Oh my gosh I was so excited for this one! I found out about Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare early in the year and have been anxiously awaiting its release. I dived into it as soon as it arrived on my doorstep. So did it meet all expectations? It exceeded them on every level.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead.
High school senior Quinn has just moved to Kettle Springs with her father, and they’re looking for a fresh start. Quinn quickly begins making friends but also notices the tensions in the town between the adults and the teens. These tensions come to a head at a high school party when a killer clown begins picking off the teens one by one. Unfortunately, for Quinn and her new friends, that clown isn’t acting alone…
One really interesting aspect of Cesare’s book is its reflection of the world today. The political world specifically: the clash between younger progressives and older conservatives. Early in the book, Quinn sees a flier: “Make Kettle Springs Great Again.” The adults and kids of this town are thoroughly squared off, and things get ugly. Murderously ugly. Kettle Springs’ generational clashes make it a violent, admittedly dramatized microcosm of the real world we’re currently living in.
“I’ve expressed this to some of you, but I think that there may soon come a time when the powers of law don’t go far enough to keep Kettle Springs the town we know and love,” spouts the Trumpian sheriff. Like Trump, the sheriff also uses the people of his town’s fears and prejudices to get them to go along with his plans. He adds later:
But convincing the town that we needed to cull [the teenagers] was not as hard as you’d think. I mean, we didn’t say it right away like that…You tell people they’re right, tell ’em what they want to hear, you listen…but then the whole time you’re doing that listening, you’re pushing the boundaries forward. Reshaping morality. Drawing a new line in the sand while nobody else is watching, then wiping away the old one. And the whole time you know…You know where it’s all leading.
Granted Trump’s government haven’t dressed up like clowns and actually slaughtered large groups of people, but they are known for silencing those they see as “undesirable” in ways, such as the internment camps for immigrants at the border or in the support of killer cops, that are increasingly deadly.
Trump’s presidency has been a real wake up call for many of us in America. Those of us who are young, or poor, or women, non-binary, gay, those of us who aren’t white: Our government doesn’t care about us. In some cases, it actually wishes us harm. Likewise, the cornfield massacre is a wake up for the teens in this book. As one of of our heroes says:
You know the thing that gets me? How you pretend to care. Even in your insane way, you pretend to care. You’re all so worried about what’s wrong with the kids, when you’re the ones selling us guns, telling us times were better when men were men, pretending that global warming is a hoax, and turning hate into a team sport…
Now none of Cesare’s allegory would work if Clown in a Cornfield wasn’t otherwise solid. And it is. Cesare deftly creates characters the reader cares about; the book’s fast pace doesn’t deter from the buildup of characters that feel real. Outside of our heroine Quinn, I really loved Cole, Rust, and Janet. Cole is a lot more than just the surface “bad boy with a heart of gold.” Rust is a truly wonderful character, also full of unnoticed depth, and he and Cole’s kiss at the end (That wasn’t CPR. That wasn’t CPR at all.) will go down in history as one of my all time favorite book kisses. Janet’s also a compelling character, the queen bee ready to sacrifice her life for her classmates. As for Quinn, well, she’s a magnificent badass.
By the end of the book, Cole is the inheritor of his murderous father’s fortune. The town was unable to kill off its teen population, and the town’s upswing in fortune is in the hands of the youth they tried so hard to silence. Hate doesn’t win in Clown in a Cornfield, and it won’t win in the real world either. Times are changing; the future is ours, and our voices will be heard.