Review: Mary, Will I Die? is an imaginative addition to YA horror

Mary, Will I Die?, a young adult book by Shawn Sarles, breathes new life into the Bloody Mary myth of old.

Bloody Mary, whose origins always change as does the number of times you must say her name to summon her, has been a part of pop culture and many people’s everyday childhoods for decades if not longer.

Calling her name is practically a right of passage as a kid. One meant to send shivers down young one’s spines as they dare each other to look in the mirror and call the terrifying woman to the forefront of reality.

Sarles takes Mary’s myth and spins a tale for a new age, adding more to her story than the chant of her name and the fright of children.

Mary, Will I Die? is a good read for the Halloween season

Mary, Will I Die? is told from four perspectives–Elena, Steph, Grace, and Calvin. Each teen called Blood Mary when they were nine years old at the urging of Elena, who’d revealed to them an antique mirror in her deceased grandmother’s room.

She told her carpool buddies that the mirror would show them their soulmates or Blood Mary herself which meant they’d die young. With a storm raging outside, it’s a perfectly creepy opening that will resonate with anyone who’s been lured into calling the woman’s name.

Three of the teens saw their soulmates while one had the misfortune of glimpsing Mary with her Medusa-like hair coils, soulless eyes, and blood dripping down her face. The one who saw her was also cursed with premonitions focused on the tragedy that awaits around every corner, misstep, or wrong turn taken.

Fast forward five years and this quartet has moved on from one another but are still in each other’s orbit thanks to going to the same school. Sarles balances their archetypes deftly.

Elena is a popular mean girl, Steph is an athlete struggling with her sexual identity, Grace is a horror/monster fanatic who’s quirky and different from her peers, and Calvin is a loner who keeps to himself and doesn’t go anywhere without his sketchbook.

While Mary, Will I Die? does dip into cliches that make certain plot elements predictable–such as Elena’s vanity and desire to be the best being used against her– and it also peels back the layers of these characters’ crippling self-doubt and insecurities.

It’s evident in the story that much of the teens’ concerns and how they handle them stem from Mary’s influence and the hold she has on the quartet despite the singular encounter half a decade ago. But their worries are also typical of their age group. They want to be liked, to fit in, to be considered normal, to fall in love, and to not be ridiculed or bullied.

It’s a thematic element that’ll resonate with the target age group of the book. It’s also the means by which the plot is driven forward and continues to take chilling twists and turns as it progresses.

Mary’s presence, felt throughout Mary, Will I Die? both as an absent figure and one that periodically pops up like a ghost haunting the teens, is the hook that keeps the reader on the line. She’s what twists what could be a typical high school drama seen time and time again into something fresh.

The background romances are a little empty but they do serve the purpose of bringing these teens into their own as they slowly come to realize the threat they’re under. But the central conflict, outside of Blood Mary, is on Elena’s broken and antagonistic relationships with both Steph and Grace, her former best friend.

It’s her battles with the two girls and the reveal of how her family fits into all of this that’s the meaty part of the story. It keeps the tension on high personally for these three characters and sets up how they all become pawns subject to Mary’s whims.

Not that Calvin doesn’t have his own role to play. It is an important one that’s repeatedly the catalyst for the violence visited upon the quartet, but he mostly interacts with Grace.

Ultimately, Mary, Will I Die? culminates in a satisfying showdown that brings all of the pieces of the story together. There are bits of the plot that feel a stretch too far by the end like Elena’s personal growth, however, the overall book is an enjoyable read for horror fans or those looking for a Halloween pick for the season.

Mary, Will I Die? is available now in print and e-book format.