What We Harvest by Ann Fraistat
Wren owes everything she has to her home, Hollow’s End, a centuries-old, picture perfect American town. Tourists travel miles to marvel at its miracle crops, including the shimmering, iridescent wheat of Wren’s family farm. Until five months ago.
That’s when the quicksilver mercury blight first surfaced, poisoning the farms of Hollow’s End one by one. It began by consuming the crops–thick, silver sludge bleeding from the earth. Next were the animals. Infected livestock and wild creatures alike staggered off into the woods by day—only to return at night, their eyes, fogged white, leering from the trees.
Then, the blight came for the neighbors.
Wren is among the last locals standing. And the blight has finally come for her, too. Now, the only one she can turn to is the last person she wants to call: her ex, Derek. They haven’t spoken in months, but Wren and Derek still have one thing in common—Hollow’s End means everything to them. Only there’s much they don’t know about their hometown and its renowned miracle crops. And they’re about to discover that miracles aren’t free.
Their ancestors have an awful lot to pay for, and Wren and Derek are the only ones left to settle old debts.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Hollow’s End is losing its battle with the blight.
For five months, the blight has trekked across town, turning miracle crops into silvery death traps. What only claimed plants at first has spread now to the livestock and wild animals of the town, and even worse, the neighbors. Quarantined in town by a barricade at the only bridge, Wren Warren is one of the last locals who still remains untouched by the blight.
Except now it’s come after her farm.
With no left to help but Derek, her ex, Wren must search for a way to cure the blight, something five months of searching hasn’t done. If she doesn’t succeed, everything she loves about Hollow’s End will be swallowed by the quicksilver.
There are no more second chances for Hollow’s End and its miracle crops. There is only payment due, and Wren is one of the last still standing to pay it.
If you want horror in the corn, What We Harvest has it.
Well, minus the corn. Will you accept horror in the wheat instead? Not as catchy, but far more accurate to this book. Wren’s farm is renowned for the wheat that grows in a literal rainbow of colors, a wheat rumored to have all manner of curative properties. Before the blight, when the family farm was still doing well, people came from all over to purchase bread made from wheat grown in the Warren Rainbow Fields.
Now, though, the blight is creeping into the wheat, Hollow’s End’s last standing major crop, and with it come the blighted. They only emerge at night, with eyes filmed over in white and quicksilver beading up across their rotting bodies. As time goes on, they become stronger, faster, more rotten through their terrible cores.
And the people of Hollow’s End are among them. A disappearance one day becomes a hollowed out monster the next. Jaws dangle, limbs flail, and bodies rot.
Really, it’s gruesome in a way that really, deeply unnerves. Paranormal horror is the variety that creeps me out the most usually, but I’m so glad I didn’t read What We Harvest late at night, or I wouldn’t have gotten much sleep. The atmosphere is positively outstanding, and it’s only aided by the time constraints Wren and Derek are under.
“What good is a legacy if it’s always been a lie?”
More importantly than the atmosphere, though, is What We Harvest‘s commitment to Midwest gothic. Sure, if you boil it down to a simple use of “eyes in the crops,” you’ve kind of got it nailed on the basic level. But this is more intricate than that. It’s not just the sense of wrong where everything should be brisk and breezy on the farm. It’s the exploration of legacy and greed that really drives it home.
See, I fully believe a good, truly gothic book is going to sink its teeth into issues that have gone so far back they seem to be impossible to uproot. It should tackle some flavor of “we’ve always done it this way” or ” this is how it has to be done.” And boy, What We Harvest does this in spades. Wren may start the book ignorant of the true scope of the blight, but what she learns is earth-shattering. It’s also a clear portrait into human greed and desperation, and it’s also an opportunity to change.
Maybe things don’t have to stay the same. Maybe it’s time to plant the seeds of a new legacy instead of reaping the rotten rewards of an old one.
Wren just has to survive long enough to figure out how first.
What We Harvest should be on your list if you’ve got any taste for horror at all.
Brisk and chilling, steeped in the uncanny side of the Midwest, it’s a brilliant debut novel. I loved every bit of it, even if there will probably be white-eyed jawless bears prowling around my nightmares for a while, because it cuts so sharp and deep and brutal. And at risk of repeating myself, the atmosphere is a work of art, swirling around all the things that go bump in the night so that they might frighten you even more.
If What We Harvest sounds like the book for you, good news! It can terrify you as soon as today, depending on whether or not you can get to the store/your library has a copy already/you can purchase an ebook. It’s out on shelves as of March 15th, ready and waiting to call you out past the final boundary of the wheat.
CW: child death, loss of a loved one, violence (including gun violence), animal death, gore, body horror, smoking, underage drinking