Book Reviews

Book Review: Locke and Key (Audiobook), by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key

Locke and Key (Audiobook)

By: Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez

Published: October 5, 2015

The Rundown: “A brutal and tragic event drives the Locke family from their home in California to the relative safety of their ancestral estate in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, an old house with powerful keys and fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them.  As siblings Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke discover the secrets of the old house, they also find that it’s home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all…”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover of the audiobook features the ghostly face of Sam Lesser floating before a door.  It’s creepy, especially given Sam’s ugly face is drawn into a snarl.  However, the cover gives away a major spoiler from the end of “Book One: Welcome to Lovecraft.”  Why would they do that?

The Good Guys: The protagonists of Locke and Key are the three Locke children.

Tyler: Tyler is the oldest, and is in his senior year of high school.  After the murder of his father, Rendell, Tyler is filled with self-hatred.  Tyler resented being the son of the school guidance councilor because all the other kids perceived him as a goody-two-shoe.  He even told Sam Lesser that if Sam ever decided to kill his own father, then he should kill Tyler’s father too.  Sam takes him up on this, and Tyler has to live with what he said.  Instead of dealing with his emotions, however, Tyler locks them all away.

Kinsey: Kinsey is a year younger than Tyler, and has wild hair and multiple facial piercings.  Kinsey is unable to control her emotions, and is constantly crying and terrified.  When she discovers the Head Key, she uses it to remove her Tears and Fears from her brain, leaving her incapable of feeling pain or sadness.  She is no longer able to understand other people’s emotions or see the consequences of her actions.  Essentially, instead of dealing with her feelings, Kinsey turns herself into a well-adjusted psychopath.

Bode: Bode is seven years old.  As a result of Rendell’s death, Bode has a difficult time relating to other children.  He prefers to spend his time alone, playing with various keys and inventing weird games.  He does not see why his family wants him to make friends.

The Bad Guy: The central antagonist is Lucas “Dodge” Caravaggio, a homicidal maniac who thinks causing pain in others feels good.  He will murder enemies, allies, and bystanders indiscriminately.  Dodge poses as Zach Wells, the cousin of track coach Ellie Whedon, and becomes friends with Tyler.  He’s aware that the Locke estate has magic keys, and is especially interested in finding the Omega Key, which unlocks the Black Door.  It’s difficult to explain this character without going into spoilers, but man is this guy creepy!

The Guy in the Good Guys’ Beds: Tyler is into another senior named Jordan.  She’s the stereotypical troubled rich girl, flunking all her courses at her fancy private school, stealing her mother’s motorcycle, and burning her $8,000 dress.  Her daddy left her mommy, you see, and he says if she doesn’t go to Vassar, he’s going to cut her off.  Jordan wants to go to Smith to study art instead, but not enough to get a plebian job to pay for tuition herself.  Oh, the horror!

I found it difficult to empathize with this character.

Poor Kinsey finds herself in a relationship with Zach/Dodge.  Of course, he’s only interested in her because he thinks she can help him find the Omega Key.  Zach’s not stupid; he keeps his violent impulses in check when he’s dealing with the Locke kids.  No, he saves his hatred for Ellie and her son Rufus.

What a Wonderful World: The Locke children live in their ancestral home, called Keyhouse.  The house contains keys which, when inserted into the correct lock, grant the user of the key certain abilities.  For example, there’s the key to the Ghost Door, which allows the user to assume a spectral form.  There’s also the Head Key, which unlocks people’s brains, and can be used to insert—or remove—knowledge, memories, and emotions.  In the wake of tragedy, the Locke family uses the keys to improve their lives.  Of course, should the keys fall into the wrong hands…

The Key to Beast Mode: This book is really good at depicting abusive relationships.  Ellie finds herself going from one toxic relationship to another.  Her mother abused her as a child.  She found solace in sports and school, where she met Dodge.  At first Dodge was a good person, but then something changed him.  However, Ellie remains loyal, even as Dodge abuses her.  This is poignantly expressed by his insertion of a piece of his will into her brain.  Even when she tries to leave him, to warn others about him, she is still his slave.  Also effective was the contrast between the ways that Sam and Rufus responded to similar abuse they experienced growing up.

Evil Tapeworms: Since the audiobook is based on a series of graphic novels, it’s presented more like a radio play, complete with sound effects.  There is very little narration and honestly, it needed more.  If you’re not already familiar with the plot of Locke and Key, you are going to be very lost.  Even if you’ve read the books, you’ll be confused by the action scenes, which usually consist only of grunts and gunfire.

Does it Represent…

Women: This book has more male characters than female ones, but the female characters that it does have are very well-rounded.  I’ve already discussed Kinsey, Ellie, and Jordan.  Kinsey has a running buddy named Jackie Vega who tries to curb Kinsey’s more reckless impulses.  There’s Erin Voss, Rendell’s school friend who is now in a mental institution, and Rendell’s former girlfriend Kim Topher, a total jerk who aspired to be an actress.  Kinsey’s mother Nina, who always drank too much, has become an alcoholic following the death of her husband.  She struggles to keep herself together, and cannot emotionally support her children.  Dodge sometimes uses the Gender Key to manifest as female.  When he does, he acts like a manipulative sexpot, which is gross but definitely in character.

People of Color: There are several black characters: the drama teacher, Erin, Kinsey’s friend Jamal, Detective Mukutu.  Kinsey wants to visit Erin in the hospital, but Erin is afraid of white people, so she uses the Ethnicity Mirror to make herself and Bode black.  While black, Kinsey experiences racism firsthand.  For example, she can’t get a taxi while black, but when she makes herself white, a police officer takes her home because it’s dangerous for a kid to be out in such a rough neighborhood.  Like, it’s not dangerous for a black kid to be out?  There are some racist guys who work in the mental hospital, and make cruel comments about Erin.  Jamal mentions his family had to move out of a nearby neighborhood do to racist harassment by working-class white people.

LGBT People: The owner of Keyhouse is the Locke kids’ uncle, Duncan.  Duncan has a boyfriend named Brian who lives in Providence.  There’s a scene where Brian picks a fight with two homophobic women in a bar, and Duncan gets hurt in the ensuing chaos.  The police mention that there has been a rise in homophobic attacks following recent rulings about gay marriage, which is sadly accurate.

The Disabled: Tyler, Kinsey, and Nina are all coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Nina walks with a cane due to injuries sustained during the attack by Sam Lesser.  Erin is incapable of remembering anything or forming new memories, and lives in a mental institution.  Rufus, Ellie Whedon’s son, is mentally handicapped, and also plays an important role in the events of the narrative.  The depressing thing about this character is that he constantly belittle himself, calling himself stupid.  He picked most of this up from his abusive grandmother, who wanted to have him sent to a group home.

Memorable Quote: “Death isn’t the end of your life, you know.  Your body is a lock.  Death is the key.  The key turns… and you’re free.  To be anywhere.  Everywhere.  Two places at once.  Nowhere.  Part of the background hum of the universe.”

Recommended for: People who have the graphic novels fresh in their minds.  If you haven’t read the books, you will have no clue what’s going on in the audiobook.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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