“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
The Olly Olly Oxen Free Hide-and-Seek Tournament. Fourteen competitors, one week, isolated defunct amusement park, hide-and-seek, no exit before game over, no cell phones, and $50,000 if you are the last person not found. Two people will be eliminated each day. A company going by the name Ox Extreme Sports is offering the chance of a lifetime for the fourteen people who are desperate to win it. Mack, who comes from a tragic background and never found her footing, is an expert at hiding. Her life once depended on it. This may be her one and only chance to have an existence outside of homeless shelters. The thirteen other participants all have a dream they're chasing or a pit to climb out of, too.
The Amazement Amusement Park has been closed since 1974, when a five-year-old girl disappeared and was never found. Now, over forty years later, the park is a skeleton frame of itself, as rides and buildings are in an advanced condition of decay. There is still the topiary, lots of hedges, and paths that twist out and into themselves. The fourteen tournament contestants are locked inside the grounds behind an imposing fence and a massive iron gate. There is a covered, but open-air, space with cots and showers and restrooms and supplies for them. This is where they will sleep at night. During the day they will be out in the park hiding and trying not to get discovered before the sun sets. Not a bad deal for the big bucks money prize. They arrive during the night, and their liaison for the Ox Extreme Sports, Linda, sees them settled but leaves well before dawn. There is an alarm that sounds half an hour before dawn, so the competitors have time to find a hiding place and get set a day of staying out of sight.
Mack's only purpose in this competition is to make it to the end as the only one savvy enough not to get "caught." She doesn't have any interest in making friends or engaging in conversations. The first day she sticks to that plan, but the second day she gives in to help Ava, a young Army veteran. As it turns out, Mack isn't as Teflon-like as she thought, and before the week is out, she will come to care about more than just one of her co-competitors. The first ones out, Isabella and Logan, are not seen again, not even a good-bye to the group. No one thinks it too odd, but as the week progresses and screams become a part of the disappearances, Mack and Ava and Brandon know that something is very wrong. When the players start turning against one another, survival of the fittest becomes a mental and physical double-trouble showdown.
It's not hard for readers to figure out that there's a supernatural element to what's wrong inside the gates of Amazement Park. We’re ahead of the characters on this, as readers have an omniscient view, along with several characters’ POVs, that the author provides. I don’t seek out books with supernatural aspects to them, but since this is a suspense/horror story, it fits just as it should. The contestants figuring out just what they’re dealing with is only part of the story. It is the “why” of it that is the crux of the story. Therein lies the true horror.
Overall, Hide by Kiersten White is a story that kept me engaged and invested in the main character Mack, rooting for this damaged young woman whom life had chewed up and spit out. The support cast members who were aligned with Mack were also sympathetic characters as readers learn more of their backstory. Of course, Mack has the mother of all backstories, and one that the other players are aware of early on, but Mack reveals more about her actual tragedy through flashbacks to the day her world fell apart. The unsavory characters are, of course, necessary and also have interesting stories, but they aren’t as deeply explored as the “good guys.” With fourteen characters in the game, there are some throw-aways, who we barely know and are unlikely to care about or remember much. What I liked about the character introductions was that White provided a short bio of a few sentences at the beginning of the story, when the participants for the game were all on the bus that took them to Amazement Park. The variety of backgrounds is interesting and includes Mack’s homeless status, an Instagram wannabe model, a solar panel salesman, a graffiti artist, a gas station attendant, a YouTuber, and more. There is a twist about all these unrelated, diverse characters though, and that connection is a stunner.
The story itself is a good, scary adventure with moments of holding one’s breath, a plot well-paced. There are some instances where a phrase was maybe repeated too often, but that could have been a deliberate move to emphasize it. Either way, I wasn’t deterred from being engaged. Aesthetically, the book is quite enticing. The book jacket cover is appropriately atmospheric, and the endpapers, front and back, are a colorful map of the amusement park. Though you can’t always judge a book by its cover, it is the cover and endpages that drew me to it. I think readers looking for a shorter length story (240 pages) of suspense and horror, with a mystery of the “why,” can be assured that Hide will provide that. It’s hard to resist a scary story set in an abandoned amusement park with a dark, secret history.
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