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Content warning: Body horror, gore, skin diseases, gun violence, deadnaming, plague, religious abuse, suicidal ideation, dead parents, homophobia
The area of Appalachia where Hell Followed With Us takes place has been ravaged by a virus unleashed by an eco-fascist Christian cult that wants to usher in the end days to meet their God. They do this by an infection called the Flood and the creation of literal monster called Graces, the most powerful of which is Seraph. It’s host is Benji, who’s on the run from the cult because he’s trans and has had enough. He finds sanctuary with a small resistance group, but it wont’ belong long until the cult finds him and take back the monster he stole.
It’s gory, it’s fun, it twists and surprises, and features a cast of queer teens at its center whose thorny found family relationship lends itself to a post-apocalyptic landscape.
An interview with the author will be posted on June 9th, 2022.
This book is fun if works with gratuitous body horror are your thing as they are mine. White’s attention to every gross detail really adds to the mood and atmosphere. I’m not sure any detail had been presented in the same way, and there are some bits that made me literally wince. It works to highlight how much pain the cult has caused. Both Benji’s transformation is sick and uncomfortable as f*ck, mimicking unsettling mental transformations that endure when someone loses themselves to a doomsday cult. But it’s not at all bleak. There is a sense that White channeled a bunch of visuals from horror games, and it really works.
The plot is also fast-paced with lots of room for the characters to breathe. I really enjoyed how Benji finds acceptance of his true self with the group. He gets to have a bit of a relationship with everyone there, even at cursory introductions. It’s neat that Nick got his own perspective in a few places that round out the tensions and the stakes. But the story still very much belongs to Benji and how he’s fighting to be his trans self while trying not to lose himself to a monster he didn’t ask for.
I think Theo could have used some development in the beginning, especially considering that he acts a bit of a conduit for the cult. In fact, the entire last quarter of the book had much stronger development of the cult’s stances on things like gender roles and religious fervor than the first three quarters of the book. To me, it seemed a little too easy for Benji to both want to be around Theo and Theo’s strained acceptance of Benji’s transness. It doesn’t feel with held, just underdeveloped.
That being said, showing the two facets through both Nick and Theo worked really well for me. On one side, there’s the resistance in Nick and the other teens at the ALC. It’s a blown-out bunker that used to be an LGBTQ+ resource center. Tensions run high as food is running out and now they have a new kid with a secret that they have to take care of. But Benji still thinks back to Theo, even though he represents so much of what literally destroyed the world. That arc had some sick surprises, which adds to the horror outside of the aesthetics and both violent and biological warfare.
Overall, Benji’s tale is a gory, nasty ride whose plot nods to games like Resident Evil and The Last of Us, with a trans protagonist fighting to transcend his past and the monster literally living inside him. It ends well enough for him, but wow, at what cost.