Hayley Knighten

Book Review: Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

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You know those crane machines filled with cheap stuffed toys and the occasional awesome one that you simply must have? Penpal is a lot like those. The writing is long-winded and poorly paced, but if you’re patient, you will find the story is worth the trouble and the purse full of coins it costs to buy the book.

penpal cover


Author: Dathan Auerbach
Publisher: 1000Vultures
Genre: Mystery/Thriller, Suspense, Horror
Pages: 254
Release date: August 12, 2012

Buy the Penpal Kindle edition here.

Not the most enticing pitch, I know, but the dad in How I Met Your Mother tells a more focused story. Auerbach meanders through his plot and repeats himself constantly. It comes as no surprise that Penpal started as a series of posts on Reddit before Auerbach self-published the novel with funds from Kickstarter.

Easy drinking game for Penpal? Take a drink every time you read the word memories. You’ll be wasted before you finish the first chapter. Auerbach loses focus particularly in the first few chapters and creates side stories that have nothing to do with the plot. You’ll have to stick with this one if you want any kind of payoff. My advice? Skip the first chapter. No, really, skip it. You won’t miss a thing.  As Auerbach told Horror Novel Reviews:

“It started as a single story called “Footsteps” that I posted on a part of reddit.com called “NoSleep.” When I posted that story, it wasn’t the beginning of a series to me – that was all I was planning on posting.”

The story begins in chapter two with the narrator’s childhood memories (drink!) of a kindergarten class project, The kids wrote notes, attached them to balloons and released them hoping that someone would find their note and write back. A penpal sends photos in response to the narrator and from that point on, he feels that someone or something is watching him. While each chapter is better than the last, I had difficulty believing that a 5-year-old boy would wander the woods alone or calls his playmates “dude” or “man.”  All nit-picking aside, if you love scary stories, you need to read this book. Penpal is a chilling tale with an ending that is both satisfying and unexpected. Fans of creepypastas and urban legends will love this.

According to Auerbach, a film adaptation is in the works. Penpal would transfer well to film and may even surpass the book. While Penpal has many flaws, they could be fixed in the right screenwriter’s hands.

All flaws aside, Penpal is sure to have you checking your back the next time you’re alone in the woods.  

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