Bad Juju by Dina Rae
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Jake rolled out of bed and army crawled to the doorway. Looking through the opening that separated the door from the carpeting, he saw Leah’s head bloodied. She lay limp on the floor. Pete stopped hitting her. His whole demeanor changed. With a wolfish expression, he began to unbuckle his belt. Rhianna’s screams got closer. She must have darted to the other side of the living room, putting her smack-dab in front of Jake’s bedroom door. He could now see her foot. It partially blocked his view. Shit! Can’t get involved! If I open the door…
“Pete, what the hell is a matter with you? Stop it! She’s passed out. You beat her into a coma, man! And now you’re gonna…Sober up and think of what you’re doing! Right in front of your daughter!” T.J. yelled.
Is he suicidal? Jake knew his uncle would make T.J. regret his words. Like Leah, T.J. was small. He was filled with faults, but violence was not one of them. On perfect cue, Jake could hear his uncle’s bare fists hooking T.J. in the jawbone. Rhianna’s screams turned into full-blown hysteria. The poor girl was hyperventilating while desperately grasping Jake’s locked doorknob for refuge. I don’t want to be involved! Go back to your closet and lay still!
“Jakey, Jakey, pwwweeeze!” Rhianna sobbed.
Jake couldn’t take her suffering any longer. Quickly unlocking the door, he grabbed the little girl and pulled her inside his room and then relocked the door. The living room had grown eerily quiet. Jake had a difficult time hearing while Rhianna wailed. “It’s okay now. Try to be quiet,” he whispered, straining to hear. Nothing but silence was on the other side of his door. His heart rate doubled. Always quiet before the storm. Was it over? Or was I next? He slid on his gym shoes, took a can of Comet cleaner from his bathroom, and crept up to the only window in the room. It was small, but Jake knew he could fit through.
Then came the sound he was waiting for. Click, click, click. Pete was delicately trying to open the door. He now knew it was locked.
Lucien Nazaire flees his Haitian homeland and meanders around the United States for decades. He settles in a Wisconsin trailer park filled with elderly tenants. He meets Jake, his teenage neighbor, and hires him for odd household jobs. As their relationship progresses, Lucien invites the boy into the world of Voodoo.
Jake LaRue lives in foster care with his abusive uncle. The Voodoo lessons give him a sense of power within an otherwise helpless situation. Although the boy is a loner, he feels an instant connection with his classmate, Henry, and introduces him to Lucien.
Henry Novak has Asperger’s Syndrome. He fixates on historical events, most recently the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Like Jake, he becomes passionate about the dark side of Voodoo. They learn how to cast spells on those they hate and lust, leading up to dire consequences.
Several months after the Haitian earthquake, Henry convinces his family to volunteer with their church in the island’s reconstruction. Their mission turns into a nightmare when he mysteriously walks off of the campsite.
Bad Juju is a balance of horror, romance, and literary fiction intended for ages fifteen and up. Research about the Voodoo religion, shapeshifting, zombies, and possession and themes of redemption and loneliness emerge throughout the plot.
Overview: Dina Rae has a very unique writing style. The book feels more like a screenplay than a novel in parts. The dialogue is over-the-top dramatic at parts, but with the dark nature of stories such as Bad Juju, there’s a lot of reasons for the characters to be upset enough to validate the ample use of exclamation points. The way the author switched from over-the-top psychological horror to back story and new character point of view was frustrating for the hardcore horror lover in me. I wanted the gore and horror to never stop. However, for readers who don’t read primarily horror novels, you will appreciate a change of scenery after reading some of the most disturbing parts of this novel.
The descriptions and scene setups are so well done that I forgot I was reading a book. It felt like I was watching reality TV, although I doubt anyone would want to star in this novel. Don’t get too attached to the characters as not all of them make it to the end. Overall, I think Bad Juju will appeal to readers who like both psychological horror novels and dark stories without the gore (although I would still rate this book R for sex, nasty dead people, and violence).
Characters: I liked how complex and colorful Jake’s family was. There’s a couple of white trash stereotypes in the beginning but as the story progresses each character is really fleshed out and the stereotypes forgotten. Although Henry’s family got nearly as much screen time, they weren’t as interesting and some of them fell flat. I was surprised how much attention Britney and Rio had in the story – and even though they were minor characters, they felt unique and as far from the head cheerleader/jock personalities and stereotypes as you can get.
Plot: The story hops around quite a bit, which didn’t bug me when I read Halo of the Damned by Dina Rae. Since this book was more of a hardcore horror book, I felt like the scenes ended prematurely sometimes. I wanted the creepiness and the gore to keep going and for the scare/creepy factor to be more consistent. The twists in this book kept me guessing until the last few chapters. Despite my disappointment in the horror, the story was so compelling and addictive to read. Dina Rae definitely comes up with some creative dark tales. I can say with certainty that I’ve never read a novel like this one.
Ending: I have some mixed feelings about the ending. I liked what Jake and Lucien were doing with the Voodoo, but I was really tired of Henry and his mother Jess. I wished for many bad things to happen to the latter pair and not all those bad things came to pass. I did like how Rio’s story ended. That was a nice twist.
This is a very gritty horror novel.
I received a copy of this novel as part of the book blog tour in exchange for my honest review.
“He’s done this before, hasn’t he?”
“Yes. Lots of times. But this is the worst time,” Jake cried. Emotions suddenly overcame him.
“This is unforgivable. The next time might be worse. He needs to be stopped. Police?” Jake shook his head. “Let me make you an ointment for your back.”
Lucien opened a drawer with endless containers of odd spices labeled in French. He began to boil water.
“Lucien, why don’t you make a Voodoo doll? Isn’t that what you do in Haiti when someone is making you mad? We can make one of Jake’s uncle,” Henry suggested.
“Can you do that, Lucien?” Jake asked.
“I haven’t done that kind of thing since, oh, since I left Haiti. And sometimes it doesn’t even work. It’s such a small part of the Voodoo religion. Some would call it Hoodoo. These things take time, but we could try. Although I’d feel more comfortable showing you how to make a healing ointment for scarred skin. Revenge is one of the trickiest of the hexes. It has a power of its own, making it easy to backfire. Any more harm than what your uncle deserves might invite evil loas into your life. And Henry, your parents might not approve of this. Maybe it’s a bad idea.”
“Like I said earlier, I’m good at keeping secrets.”
“But from your parents? I don’t know if that’s right.”
“He’s cool. And like you said, this probably won’t even work. It’s worth a try. You’re cheering me up just talking about it,” Jake said.
“Then I’ll need a few personal items from your uncle. Hair, Q-tips, trinkets, clothes, anything he personally uses,” Lucien instructed. “I also need dirt. Large Ziploc bags of dirt from the graveyard next door. I think I can provide the rest.”
About the Author:
Dina Rae is a new author here to stay. As a former teacher, she brings an academic element to her work. Her three novels, Halo of the Damned, The Last Degree, and Bad Juju weave research and suspense throughout the plots. Her short story, Be Paranoid Be Prepared, is a prequel of sorts to The Last Degree, focusing on the James Martin character. Dina also freelances for various entertainment blogs.
Dina lives with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs outside of Chicago. She is a Christian, an avid tennis player, movie buff, and self-proclaimed expert on several conspiracy theories. She has been interviewed numerous times in e-zines, websites, blogs, newspapers, and radio programs. When she is not writing she is reading novels from her favorite authors Dan Brown, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Brad Thor, George R.R. Martin, and Preston & Childs.