‘You Are Invited’ was written in 2020 by Sarah A. Denzil, who is an independent author who self published this piece of work. The frontispiece pages shows the author’s current work as well as an excerpt from a translation from a diary that inspired this novel. I received this book for free to provide an honest and unbiased review here.
The premise of the book is a contemporary and a fairly unique one: 5 people taking part in a ‘big brother’ event, called The Event and getting the heebie jeebies. The events that unfold are recorded and then uploaded online or the characters use live footage. The Event is held in a beautiful historic monastery, Sfântul Mihail in the Transylvanian mountains that used to house a group of nuns before they were murdered, many decades ago. The manner in how the author sets the scene in the beginning is highly effective, a long taxi ride to the monastery, where the taxi driver describes what happened at the castle through stories that had been passed around the small town at the foot of the mountain for decades.
The plot continues and I felt tense right from the beginning as the author effectively foreshadows the story using the environment, as the main character arrives at Sfântul Mihail. Tt’s dark and Denzil describes her arrival to the ancient building:
“The night robbed me of my first glimpse of Sfântul Mihail. It was through hazy yellow lights that I caught sight of old bricks and stained-glass windows.” (p. 9, ch. 2).
This is a classic setup for a horror or thriller, I would categorise this book as a thriller due to the story line and the build-up of tension throughout the novel. I could see the scenes unfolding in my head on a cinema screen, as I do like my horror and thriller films. The main character is shown to us as a shy introvert, and as we see from Cabin in the Woods by Joss Whedon, this books holds the staple cast in any horror movie: the virgin, the cheerleader, the jock, the joker and the paranoid one. I would imagine that anyone would be able to relate to these characters, and be able to pick up this book.
The idea of the characters being the stereotypical horror victims works rather well in this book. The characters are all internet personalities, and we find out more detail about how their contracts work over the course of the book: they have to be earning from their online presence a certain amount per month, have over a certain amount of followers and each individual has their own target ‘niche’. The joker is the annoying gamer guy, the Paranoid Girl is a journalist, which is rather fitting as she was designed to be nosey and this is her undoing. The person who organised The Event is the Cheerleader, who had been through chemotherapy as a child for cancer and blogs about her journey and how inspirational life is. She hooks up with the Jock who teachers online yoga and is the face of home fitness, the characters chemistry does work really well.
Throughout the book, we see the main character, Cath, act into the virgin role, and the author details that she is asexual and that she has paranoid schizophrenia where she hears an individual voice in her head when she isn’t on her medication. The first chapters we find out that there is more depth to Cath, and you can predict very early on that she has a dark past where murder was involved. We see this unravel at the end of the book through Cath having flashbacks of what happened. This trauma is where the voice came from, P.S. it’s her cruel, abusive and narcissistic mother’s voice, a nice Freudian touch there and completely believable.
Heading back to the main body of the book, when the characters do the live streams they do this so they can then earn ‘donations’ from members who pay to watch them for the month while they’re at the monastery. The characters would get money from those online who donated to them, therefore covering their costs of attending The Event and then earning plenty of money thereafter via the secret company which renovated the building they’re staying in. This was super shady from the beginning, as we don’t know who this company truly is, giving the reader that uneasy feeling again.
The author also brought in an external factor: wolves that seemed to surround the mountains which was a nice bit of foreshadowing. Especially as Cath managed to save one from being caught in a wire fence adding more drama where the reader didn’t know what would happen. This gave the reader the gentle side to her character, which was also compassionate, making me feel more positively toward her.
The book is narrated in the first person from the main character, Cath. The reader is blinkered to what is happening with the rest of the group and this direction worked really well. It wasn’t boring and language wasn’t repetitive, in fact we see a good use of vocabulary being used as well as scenes that offer plenty of tension throughout. I felt like I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t see what the other characters were up to, which again, added to the tension. The only way we see what’s going on with the other characters is through the use of the live member chat.
This was a great idea, as the live members who tuned in to the characters channels could make requests like: if Cath were to tell a story, she should tell the story, and then she’d earn donations from the people watching the stream. The author plugs into this as Cath is in fact, a published author, which felt incredibly meta! I felt that Denzil was showing us how she works as an author through Cath, whose writing style and thought processes felt familiar, including the way Cath handles her online presence privately. I did feel like I was getting some really good tips at how to keep motivated to write and manage online trolls. It was just very interesting, and I think other readers would appreciate this hint of realism used in the book.
The member live chat was used in almost every chapter to summarise what they thought was going on, which was useful to give the reader hints in what other characters have been doing. Due to the fact we only see Cath’s perspective the live chat did bring more depth to the plot: I could totally imagine people saying the things they said online. It was creepy and also pointed out how helpful and unhelpful having an online presence could be. The live chat also helped give the reader a break, there is a lot of dialogue within the story itself, so it was good to read something that felt and read in a different way, the same way a scene break is used.
There are references to ghosts within the building, and we do see a couple of scenes where Cath thinks she sees something, but because she’s hearing voices, she is unsure whether it’s real or her schizophrenia. I would think that even though one can go through the appropriate therapy and be on the right meds, the fear of symptoms regressing could be very real. It showed that the author researched this condition, and instead of demonising it, used it to show that Cath was a real person who was trying her best and that she was not a threat to others. Public perception of mental health issues is usually one of ignorance, people fear what they do not understand (Carleton, 2016) and this was communicated through the other characters who tried to use Cath’s mental health against her.
The crescendo of the story came when we see the gamer guy lose his mind, literally. We watch him losing himself further and further throughout the book, the author hinting occasionally that he is possessed by describing his symptoms as you would watch from a ghost horror film like Insidious. The reader knows what’s coming but all they can do is just read, I did feel that this tension was maintained throughout the book. There was no point where I felt I could take a break or relax, I was in a constant state of anxiety as to what would happen next, eager to see what the conclusion had to offer.
I think that Denzil used the fact that the gamer guy, as he was isolated while playing in his room, streaming all day so he seemed like the obvious choice to demonise. I think it would have given a little more depth had it been a different character as Gamer Guy was too obvious. Eventually the Jock left as he was becoming more unsettled and with him gone, the girls were more vulnerable to the only male left. Gamer Guy was being portrayed as being unhinged, again further foreshadowing that kept me tense!
In the end the Gamer Guy snaps and kills the Cheerleader while Cath and the Paranoid Girl manage to escape outside, into the cold snowy mountains. I felt the tension rise again, and it was met with the girls crashing upon The Jock’s dead body. Apparently the wolves got him, which is believable, wolves would pick prey off if they were on their own, and the gruesome manner in which his body was discovered was chilling: under the snow, frozen. I could see this unfolding on the big screen in my head, and if the wolves were possessed like the possessed Gamer Guy, as the author suggested, this would be an interesting factor.
However, I felt this wasn’t explored as much as it could have been, but didn’t stop the enjoy-ability of the read. Paranoid Girl and Cath manage to get to the forest, which, unfortunately they are beset upon by the wolf that Cath saved from the wire fence. The book spans over a month in the timeline so I don’t think that the reality would stand of a young, weak wolf that previously needed its mother for support to be able to turn into this savage, snarling beast that inevitably kills Paranoid Girl by savaging her. Again we are possibly considering the involvement of spirits or demons, a wolf IRL would not just savage a human, they would run away. You have a much greater change of being savaged by a domestic dog than a wild wolf, and we all know that wolves live in packs, they don’t attack prey singularly. The idea of a savage wolf attack surely is frightening, but for me made me feel like it was the easy way out. I am not a fan of scenes being drawn out just for entertainment, but I do appreciate things being as real as possible, especially if the read began in that manner. If anyone has any comments on this or expertise it would be great if you could share your thoughts in the comments below!
When the book concludes, I felt unsatisfied by the endgame of Gamer Guy: wolf attack. It just felt unrealistic when the rest of the book felt so real and was founded in actual fact. The monastery IS a real building, the town IS a real area and the references to Sister Maria Popescu’s diary felt very real – but I couldn’t confirm the actuality of this diary. Again, if YOU find anything, let me know! I’d love to research it as the premise was a really fascinating idea and clever of the author.
I would have liked further investigation into the condition the Gamer Guy experienced, he was clearly possessed, and while the author flirted with the idea of ghosts and haunting’s, there wasn’t anything that really showed any haunting’s or ghosts, and I would’ve liked to see more of that, especially as it is labelled ‘A Ghost Story’. When the main character manages to escape she sees Gamer Guy surrounded by darkness and creepy looking faces – this was a nice visual for me and for other readers, but it felt a bit unfinished for that to be the last we see of Possessed Gamer Guy.
However, we managed to save Cath – the Final Girl who survives. We also see her starting to connect more with people in the real world at the end, rather than keeping herself isolated. She shows a lot of trauma which was well written, and could speak to those who have experienced similar issues. We see the schizophrenia resolved, which I felt was a good ending as Cath had been through so much in her life, not just at The Event, she needed a final resolution.
I would recommend this book, it felt like a young adult read as I managed to rip through it on Christmas Day! The idea of a social media monetised event was rather thrilling, and I thought: I’d love to do that. It was clever how the author showed the ethical issues surrounding an event like this, and how it could negatively impact people’s mental health and well-being. I appreciated touching base with the mental health issues, as well as the fact that Cath is asexual. I do enjoy reading about contemporary issues in works of fiction, and I felt that Denzil did effectively point out that these two ‘issues’ are normal and should be seen as such.
I would have appreciated more depth to the ending with Gamer Guy, but I’m glad the main character got closure with her mental health and how she was able to move on. It needed some points where the characters could relax a bit more. I did feel on edge the whole read, which I enjoyed but I have had times in my life where this has put me off reading certain books.
Also, I felt strangely empowered – being a writer I felt I was getting some insight as to how to manage my time, how to advertise and how to use social media effectively through the eyes of Cath – this was a nice touch. I think young adults would enjoy this book, it’s got a lot of action and drama that would appeal to the younger audience as well to those who to relate to social media issues, as I do.
You Are Invited Summary
Theme: This piece of work is a thriller novel based in The Carpathian Mountains in Romania where we get the immediate sense of being isolated and at the mercy of the surrounding environment.
Description: I felt as a reader very involved with the main character, I felt that the book was great at using dramatic tension and truncated sentences to build up the feelings of desperation and hopelessness. When the main character stopped hearing the voice in her head at the end, this made me feel satiated that she was safe. Sometimes when reading or watching a thriller or horror, the viewer/reader has a sense of the story being incomplete through the use of a twist… like a Goosebumps ending. I didn’t feel this here, and I preferred it this way.
Narration: This book is narrated through a 1st person viewpoint where we see the main character and everything she is feeling and experiencing. This is effective in a thriller theme because it makes the reader feel more vulnerable and makes them feel more involved in the story, with the same handicap as the main character.
Sarah A. Denzil is a million copy bestselling author of psychological suspense novels. Her books include number one bestseller Silent Child, which was a Goodreads Choice semi-finalist in 2017. Her books have been published in several different languages and have appeared on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.
Sarah lives in Yorkshire with her husband and cat, enjoying the scenic countryside and rather unpredictable weather. She loves to write moody, psychological fiction with plenty of twists and turns.
For cat pictures and book news follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Carleton, R. (2016) Journal of Anxiety Disorders: Fear of the unknown: One fear to rule them all. Vol 41, pp. 5-21.