Laura reviews Bent Heavens by Daniel Krause, Henry Holt and Co, 2020.

Liv Fleming’s father, Lee, appeared one day, naked and filthy, at the edges of the town square, claiming he’d been abducted by aliens. As the seasons changed, Lee didn’t get better; he claimed the aliens would be back, they were hunting humans in the woods behind the Fleming house.

When Lee disappears, Liv knows he’s dead, and he’s not coming back. But she can’t help checking the traps her father set in the woods, fulfilling a tradition every Sunday with her friend Doug in a form of memorial. She hates it:   checking the traps, mercy-killing the squirrels or small animals that have gotten stuck in these gruesome monuments to her father’s madness. But she can’t stop.

Until one day, Liv and Doug find a trapped alien.

And if you think that’s all this young adult book is about, you’d be mistaken. By turns Frankenstein and  the first contact novel, Bent Heavens grapples with the meaning of trauma and torture, humanity and inhumanity. Is the alien deserving of their mercy? Do they keep its existence secret, do they help it heal and recover from the gruesome trap? Is Doug the lifelong friend that Liv has always known, or does he too hide a monster inside?

Trigger warnings for violence and human suffering abound, but it is those very subjects which Krause, co-author of the novelization of The Shape of Water, chooses to expose and unmake. It’s brutal but it’s necessary, and it will make you rethink your own existence on Earth, and in the universe.