A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Several references to the difficult early colonial history of the Philippines including Ferdinand Magellan's death in the Philippines at a battle led by a chief named Lapulapu. Examples of how preproduction on a TV show works and what roles do what: producers, assistants, stars, chefs, builders, researchers, and even scientists. Some Tagalog words and phrases used, not all translated.
Do humans deserve any mercy when they wrong others? The answer in this story is yes, but rarely, and after some serious suffering and atonement. Negative forces include an unquenchable desire for fame, power, and glory, and violent sexism. These forces are responded to with wrath from a mostly merciless all-knowing god figure. A reminder that social media and the need for approval from fans can be addictive.
Positive Role Models
Alon warns all the greedy, power-hungry characters away from the cursed island. When he's not heeded, he stays to protect those he deems the most innocent. He's full of secrets, which is an important part of the plotting of the story but also means readers will never really know how much to trust him or his motives.
The main character, Alon, is nonbinary and Filipino. Chase is bisexual and his friends at home are encouraging about that. A production assistant is a lesbian. Older White men in the story are shown as racist, using some slurs and generalizations about the local languages and culture. They are usually reprimanded for this or it is seen clearly as a racist and something not to be excused. The author uses they/them pronouns and is Chinese Filipino.
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Violence & Scariness
Yes, there are sacrifices, and hearts are cut out, one eyeball as well. Two people are shot to death and one is impaled. So there's gory detail, for sure. Scares are just as intense. Characters go mad and get sucked into trees that move and change and even take the shapes of people to lure in victims and taunt them. Lots of explosives, flame throwers, and bullets are used against those tree figures that often lurk in a dark, ever-changing cave system. Backstories of characters are also intense and mostly involve violence committed against women: either the women are killed or sexually harassed or emotionally manipulated. Another backstory involves a plane crash near the island four years before that killed a woman related to two characters. Stories of past cursed happenings on the island are also intense: people sacrificed, including a pregnant woman and a man is found cut in half.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A kiss between a nonbinary character and a male character, plus some flirting between them. Stories of one character's ex-girlfriend sleeping with someone else. Nonsexual nudity: When a man goes mad he runs around naked.
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Everything said here, often, including "f--k" and one instance of "p---y." Language uttered from the worst character in the story meant to demean women and Filipinos, including "f--king brown monkey" and "brown bastard."
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Products & Purchases
One character referred to mostly as "Armani" because of his expensive suits. Brief mentions of Panera Bread and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One adult character is an alcoholic and drinks one drink after another, beer and whiskey. He also vapes. Adult characters drink champagne with dinner. Another character talks of drinking heavily the night before.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Sacrifice is a horror story by the author of The Bone Witch Trilogy. Kids not already immersed in R-rated horror movies may not be ready for this one. Yes, there are sacrifices as the title points out, and hearts are cut out, one eyeball as well. Two people are shot to death, and one is impaled. So, expect gory detail, for sure. Scares are just as intense. Characters go mad and get sucked into trees that move and change and even take the shapes of people to lure in victims and taunt them. Lots of explosives, flame throwers, and bullets are used against those tree figures that often lurk in a dark, ever-changing cave system. Backstories of characters are also intense and mostly involve violence committed against women: Either the women are killed or sexually harassed or emotionally manipulated. One character is an alcoholic and is always drunk at the beginning. Language is heavy on the F bombs and includes some racial slurs directed at Filipinos. The main character, Alon, is Filipino and nonbinary and forges romantic ties to a male character who's bisexual; very little happens between them. Alon warns all the greedy, power-hungry characters away from the cursed island. When he's not heeded, he stays to protect those he deems the most innocent.
Is It Any Good?
Horror lovers will consume this mature, hearts-ripped-out, cursed-island thriller with relish. You can't enter a creepy cave with a sacrificial altar at the beginning of any story and not use the altar. Readers know people died there and they will die there again, we just don't know when the carnage will happen and under what disturbing circumstances. Who will meet their untimely end is easier to guess, as the crueler characters in The Sacrifice -- Hollywood types, of course -- begin arriving on the island. And "types" is the right way to describe these men. They fit a stereotypical mold of greedy, cynical, soulless producers and stars. This veers toward formulaic, yes, but the author names their worst transgressions as their backstories emerge: These are men who have hurt or exploited women. The TV star, Hemslock, was brought down by the #MeToo Movement and looking for a way back into the limelight. He was rightly sacrificed in the public eye but somehow survived and is determined to be a success again, a quality modern twist to an old tale of desperation that leads to madness. We know to keep a close eye on him.
And we're also keeping a close eye on Alon, the mysterious main character (who's nonbinary but given he/him pronouns). He's a local who knows more about the island and the curse than he lets on. He's there to protect the innocent and appease the half-asleep god that's messing with everyone else. The torment comes in screams and moving corpses and, unique to the Philippines, balete trees. The fascinating trees strangle with their roots and mimic the known dead with their human forms. Fear these trees. The anger is manifest in trees, in mother nature, at men who are cruel to women, and yet it's a vengeful god at work instead of a goddess. Hmm… But that's reading pretty far into the psychology of a horror story. In the end we're still headed toward that altar, headed toward an exciting showdown. And the showdown does deliver a thrilling, uh, heartrending finish.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.