Title: The Guardians
Author: Andrew Pyper
Release date: January 4th, 2011
‘When we were young, the future was so bright
The old neighborhood was so alive
And every kid on the whole damn street
Was gonna make it big and not be beat’
Those opening lyrics from The Offspring song ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ (minus the woah-oh’s) always hit me every time I listen to them. There’s a few things you probably already know about me, if you’ve read my reviews, any of my interviews or read any of my work. The first, is that I am from a very small town in British Columbia, Canada. The second is that I often write about themes of isolation, the struggle to find where we belong, and that I am a massive Andrew Pyper fan.
I first read this novel back in March of 2020. Back then, in my review, in my ‘what I didn’t like’ section, I wrote this; It’s hard to sum up, but what I didn’t like was the main character Trevor and how much he reminded me of myself. Trevor left small town Grimshaw and owned a night club and was a big deal, according to him. He doesn’t want to go back, but he knows he must for his friend and to try and put closure on what happened all those years ago. I did a similar thing. For me, I longed and desired to leave where I grew up as fast as I could and for many, many years, I had my nose raised at those that stayed behind and never left. But who am I to judge? If they are happy, great. It’s their life. It took me many years to let myself let go of my snobbish views. So, reading how Trevor was acting and reacting reminded me a lot of my younger self. Uncomfortably so.
Honestly, now having finished this for a second time, that sentiment has been driven home even more.
For this re-read, I did something a little different. I put out a post seeing if any one else would like to join me in a read along! I’ve previously only done two read along’s – each just with a buddy. It was a ton of fun, and when five other folks signed up, I was over the moon. It lead to some fantastic discussions and it was neat to see that the one thing we all agreed upon was how compulsive Andrew’s prose is. I’ve often said that when I read Andrew’s work, it is as though he’s written the story just for me, that I fall into his words and get carried along and it was neat to see others respond that way and want to race ahead and finish the book.
What I liked: The novel follows 40-year-old Trevor, recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, who has sold his night club and wants to live a sheltered life away from people seeing his shakes and difficulties. That possibility is shattered when he gets a phone call late at night from one of his old high school friends, letting him know that Ben, one of their best friends, has taken his own life.
From there, Andrew jumps between past and present, between how things used to be between the four friends with their entire lives and dreams ahead of them, and how things turned out. How one is an addict, one is a failed actor, one is dealing with a neurological disease and one took their own life. A life that was spent watching out of his attic bedroom window at the old Thurman house, a house that holds a dark place in their respective histories.
Once again, I felt drawn into this read. This was a coming-of-age story that hit a number of high notes and as I’m a 40-year-old male from a small town, really connected. I’ve often wondered if I might need to look into speaking to a counsellor or therapist regarding some of my feelings about my upbringing and where I came from. About how ‘that place’ has left an indelible mark on my character and mannerisms and how I not only miss so much about where I came from, but also how much I detest and have anger towards things. It’s a lot to unpack, but some sentences Andrew includes throughout really hit the bullseye and a few times I was left in tears. I don’t know if Andrew reads my reviews of his work (maybe if he reads this, he’ll send me a DM or message that says ‘Leafs Rule!’ ha!) but once again, I’m left wondering how much of this book was an autobiographical approach to personal catharsis through the veil of a ghost story. Funny enough – I just messaged that exact sentiment to the group chat!
The ending of this one was, as Andrew has been known to occasionally do (looking at you The Demonologist) vague and open to interpretation. I personally loved seeing how Trevor subtly changed, but I wanted to have a firmer grip on how his high school love, Sarah, and his relationship progressed. She was the perfect foil to his immaturity towards settling down and being with someone that loved him and I think a bit more to that would’ve been nice.
‘Now the neighborhood’s cracked and torn
The kids are grown up, but their lives are worn
How can one little street swallow so many lives?’
What I didn’t like: As with the last time, what I didn’t like was very much how poignantly personal this one rang home. It reinforced that I still have work to do with my own journey of trying to understand where I came from and how I got to where I am today.
I will say, for other readers, this one is very much a small-town, coming-of-age in Canada story, so for some readers, this just may not connect. It is very male-centric, which also may cause some readers to not connect as much with it as I did.
Why you should read this: Written about a decade before Craig Davidson’s fantastic ‘The Saturday Night Ghost Club,’ fans of that book will definitely want to dive into this one. I would be interested to know if Craig was influenced at all by this one. ‘The Guardians’ is another great example of Andrew’s ‘Literary Dark Fiction,’ how he writes like a master craftsman who (deservedly so) publishes with a Big Five publisher, but remains rooted in the horror world, in the spooky and unnerving and has those indie author leanings towards gore and graphic moments.
It should be no surprise to anyone that I loved this one and if you’re looking for a Canadian high school, small town, ghost story, look no further.