In Darren Hynes’ story about two disaffected teens in a small Labrador mining town, Pete “the Meat,” a snarling, be-muscled thug, is a bully in the classic mold. He and his posse’s victim of choice is Wayne Pumphrey, singled out for his smallness and the fact he never fights back. Beginning with verbal taunts (“faggot” and “pussy”) the attacks quickly get physical: Wayne’s tormenters hurl ice balls at his face and make him eat yellow snow. When things get really bad Wayne wets himself.
The line between “classic” and “stereotype” though, can be a fine one. And with bullying practically the sole focus of YA lit—nay, the entire culture—these days, authors need to do more than rehash familiar caricatures. That Hynes does just this is one problem with Creeps. Another is that, aside from Wayne’s fear of this daily menace and a subplot involving a play that almost doesn’t go on, there’s also not a lot going on plot-wise.
Instead, most of the novel is spent fleshing out the teens’ backstories father-centric domestic problems. Wayne’s miner dad is an alcoholic; Pete’s looks surprisingly clean-cut but is not his own; Marjorie, the loner who becomes Wayne’s love interest, lost hers to suicide, leaving her mother in a depression. The novel’s setting is contemporary, yet Wayne lets off steam by composing hand-written letters to people (and once, the local water tower), that he never sends—an artifice that could have been avoided had Hynes opted for first-person narrative instead of third.
On the bright side, Hynes’ writing is often fluid and sometimes funny, especially early on. He grew up in Labrador City, though you wouldn’t think it; Creeps never gives us any real sense of place—an opportunity missed given that precious few stories are set in the region. The book’s ending, regrettably, isn’t hugely satisfying either. Pete’s harsh and exceedingly abrupt comeuppance means he always remains flat, unknowable. Librarians and teachers should also be aware that one of the novel’s final scenes—involving an attempted rape with a hot dog—might be disturbing for some.
—Emily Donaldson is a freelance reviewer and editor