Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
Book Review by Giles
Bent Heavens, by Daniel Kraus, isn’t the type of book that I normally read. However, I was intrigued by the book’s description on the library’s webpage: “Two years after the disappearance of her father, seventeen-year-old Liv and her friend capture an alien in the Iowa countryside, and instead of turning him over to the authorities, they choose a different path.” Sounds otherworldly and maybe science fiction, right? Wrong. The publisher’s description is misleading. This book turned out to be more of a horror story than sci-fi. This book made me feel all kinds of things: curiosity, anticipation, disgust, revulsion, pity, dislike, and anger.
This book has lots of flashbacks that reveal the story. Liv’s father, a high school teacher, first went missing for several days. When he returned, he claimed he’d been abducted by aliens. He started acting strangely because he was convinced that the aliens were coming back for him. He set up traps, in the woods around his house, to catch the aliens before they got him a second time.
Then Liv’s father went missing again. This time it was for good. That was over two years ago. Liv and her childhood friend, Doug, were maintaining and checking her father’s traps, every Sunday, ever since he disappeared. At this point, I should have clued in that this was going to be a horror story. Liv’s father’s traps had terrible horror movie names, like “the neck breaker” and “the amputator”.
Just when Liv is ready to give up checking the traps and destroy them, an alien gets caught in one. Liv realizes that her father was telling the truth and remembers how no one believed him. Liv and Doug don’t turn the alien over to the authorities. This is when things start to get ugly.
There’s a lot more happening in this book than just the capture of an alien. Liv is dealing with the emotional trauma of the disappearance of her father and the probability that he’s dead. Liv’s in her senior year and she’s having trouble at school. She feels great frustration and pressure.
The teacher, who replaced her father, is putting on the same play that her father was directing at the time of his second disappearance. This is really upsetting to Liv and she acts out. She gets punished by not being allowed to compete in running meets. This puts her at odds with her close group of friends. She also becomes romantically involved with a new student, Bruno.
This book starts out as a story about family and grief. Liv is grieving for her father. After Doug and Liv catch the alien, the book becomes a story about torture, suffering, and heartbreak. The alien isn’t treated very nicely in this book. There are things that happen to the alien that really disturbed me. Then the author throws in a conspiracy and the book becomes something of a detective story. Liv must figure out what is really going on. Her father’s disappearance, old family friends, the alien, and things that happened in the past lead Liv to terrible discoveries.
Daniel Kraus did an excellent job building tension in this story. Just when you think that you know what is going to happen, he throws in another twist. However, I didn’t like reading the graphic depictions of torture in this book. The climax of the story was an absolute shocker. For me, it was too much, too contrived, too over the top. In conclusion, although this book was a page turner, its progression into darkness and violence was unsettling. It was not the story I was expecting. It wasn’t scary, it was disturbing.