My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Cricket Hunters by Jeremy Hepler hops back and forth between two strange disappearances, one in 1998 and the other in 2013. At the center of these events are five friends who called themselves the “Cricket Hunters” during high school, after they began killing crickets for money for the grandmother of one of their members, Celia. The reasons behind this strange extracurricular activity are steeped in culture, ritual magic, and an escalating feud between families. Celia and another member of the group, Parker, grew up and married each other, but their life together has been complicated by tragedy, domestic abuse, and allegations of infidelity. When Parker goes missing after an argument, Celia is forced to confront the truth about herself and her husband, as well as the unsolved disappearance of their friend Abby 15 years before.
Cricket Hunters subverts the usual tropes and nostalgia of coming-of-age horror by reaching for something even darker in this tale of friendship and rivalry, but that subversion made it difficult for me to warm toward the characters. I found most of them unlikeable, and in the first third of the book, my lack of engagement with them left their story and backstory somewhat tedious to endure. I began to feel a little bit more sympathetic toward certain characters around page 100.
I was put off by the italics and othering of the Spanish language even though the main character and her abuela are Hispanic and Latina. The female characters tend to have conversations and confrontations only about males. This would have worked better, I think, if those gender tropes had been subverted as well.
I predicted some of the revelations really early in the book, but there were still some big surprises in store. The rapid pace of events and revelations in the last 50 pages of the novel kept me flipping pages early into the morning, so I would recommend this book for that alone. Having also read Hepler’s short story “Justin’s Favorite” in Silver Shamrock Publishing’s Midnight in the Graveyard anthology, I think he has a knack for scene, plot, and twists and turns.