Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters
Allison remembers life Before.
Afraid to go outside after being labeled a Freak, after the fire that left most of her body a mess of scar tissue and skin grafts, before the multiple surgeries to repair her flesh and stitch it back together; Allison had an apartment, a fiance, and unborn child. Now in Damien Angelica Walters novel Paper Tigers, Allison only remembers the safety of inside her mother's home and only ventures out at night when no one can see her.
On one of these walks Allison passes a second hand store and remarks about a scrapbook in the window that she feels oddly drawn to.
Being able to lose herself in something other than regret and self pity, Allison takes one of her night walks and happens to find the store still open at 3 AM as the shopkeeper was walking out. In the darkness, Allison questions the woman why she is still allowing her to browse the shop, and the woman give a sly reply, she aghast when Allison's face is reveled.
Purchasing the scrapbook in the window, Allison rushes home again and back to the safety of her mother's house, defeated by the woman's reaction to her scars.
Even covering herself as much as possible, Allison will never feel safe again outside, even after multiple surgeries to pull her back together.
All she wants is the life she had before, and something is about to offer it to her.
Never feeling comfortable in her new skin, Allison only slips out for a walk at night and manages to find a the second hand store still open at 3 AM. Purchasing a used scrapbook she had her eye on in the window, the owner is unable to hide their reaction to Allison's charred skin and rushes her out of the store, adding to her loneliness and resentment of this new life.
Flipping through, Allison realizes under the slots where pictures once remained, there is still handwriting that is hard to read and slightly erased under each of the picture slots.
Realizing that someone had used this scrapbook as a diary, Allison, begins to try to trace out any words she can still find on the pages, resulting in a phrase about Paper Tigers.
She comes to realize that the scrapbook was owned by a man, and by having it in her possession, she begins to feel a ghostly presence around her. Before long, Allison begins to feel herself being drawn into the book.
The Allison that exists in the realm of the ghost man inside the book is one she never thought she would see again. Before Allison, is flawless, beautiful, unmarked.
Thinking she would never see herself that way again or feel comfortable with a man's eyes on her after the fire, the Allison that lives inside the scrapbook with the ghostly man is everything that she wants of her life again.
The man promises he can make her whole, but as much as Allison wants to be free from her scars and world that she must hide inside to keep them from seeing her face, she doesn't feel right about the world inside the scrapbook either.
The Ghostly Man promises he can make her whole again, but Allison doesn't feel right about the offer.
The Strange Man
Allison the monster girl, as she has named herself, travels back and forth to the world inside out outside the scrapbook.
The man's world is of a Victorian house, creepy in its own manner as most horror story houses go. The more she explores and spends time in the world of the scrapbook, she begins to feel to whole again. Even the man's seductions that she first pushed off, seem to be a little more inviting as Allison loses herself to the new world.
As she unlocks more mysteries of the house written about in the scrapbook, she must make a choice which of her worlds in the one where she is the real Allison and wants to remain.
The man promises a place for her here, but like a Wonderland, Allison knows this is not her place to stay, but can she keep facing the ridicule of her own world?
Inside the world of the scrapbook Allison begins to feel whole again as she unlocks new mysteries, but which is the real Allison now, inside the scrapbook or outside where she is an outcast after her devastating accident.
Refusing the give up hope and come back to the world where her mother and therapist want Allison to recover from what the fire has taken away, she isn't so much given up but in limbo as she goes back and forth between the worlds of the scrapbook and her sad reality.
Realizing that she could have everything she thought she wanted in the life in the scrapbook back in the Victorian House, it just doesn't feel right. It isn't real.
Paper Tigers thrives on beautiful imagery pulling the reader into an Alice In Wonderland type second world only with a haunted house and the ghost of a man that promises Allison the life that she thought she had lost. While juxtaposing between the loner life that Allison lives inside her mother's house, her escape into the scrapbook turns out to be a nightmare in itself.
While many books have tried the same sort of idea, and even Harry Potter had a haunted journal bit as Horcrux, Paper Tigers puts a new spin on the story with an emotional broken woman at the front of the story and all the reasons why she should want to stay inside the world of the scrapbook where she is flawless and still Before Allison and not the Freak, not Monster Girl.
Where Paper Tigers is notably a slow read that sometimes pushing through the sections where nothing is really happening can give a bit of a nod off, the under arching story alone is enough to keep pushing through even at its slowest.
Where you will never really see action in Paper Tigers, it lends its tale back to something of an old Gothic page turner, rather than relying on the monsters chasing after the character. While the atmosphere is defiantly creepy and for veteran horror readers, Paper Tigers seems a little too tame, rather than a savage beast of a story.
Everything about this book though was enough to hook me in from the premise and its worth a read if you can keep pushing through the slow burn of a story that needs a little more fuel to its fire to get to the point faster.