The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson

The Loop is a horror novel about a conspiracy in a small Oregon town that threatens to take over all of the residents, and a group of outcasts who have to fight to survive. Turner Falls is a little desert town with a large medical tech firm housed within it. For Lucy, it’s a place where she’s seen as an outsider: not originally from there, not white, and not one of the rich kids. When she goes to an underground cave party with her best friend Bucket, she doesn’t expect much, but she definitely doesn’t expect it to be the start of a fight for survival as teenagers start turning into murderers thanks to a strange signal.

The narrative centres around Lucy, with her the focus of the third person narration other than a few inserted podcast transcripts to get across the conspiracy side of things, and it has a classic horror-thriller plotline of a group of people coming together and then being under constant threat. Without wanting to give everything away, it follows a typical structure of a story in which people are ‘turned’ into something else, with a lot of violent deaths just as you get used to characters being there. The main horror element of the story starts quite soon into the novel, giving you chance to meet Lucy but unlike some horror books, not spending too long building up tension.

Though the main narrative is quite predictable (the blurb compares it to Stranger Things and The X-Files, though for me it was closest to the Sims 4 game ‘Strangerville’), there were a lot of details that I particularly liked, including how the book dealt with Lucy’s trauma both from her childhood and from the events currently unfolding. There was also a focus on class, both in terms of how it was people who were more privileged who were actually turned by “the loop” (as their families had jobs at the big tech/science company who was working on the project) and in terms of how it affects the lives of the residents of Turner Falls and how it gets ingrained in people and how they see themselves.

The Loop is both a readable horror story about a town impacted by an experimental science project and also a look at trauma and survival instincts. It’s quite brutal at times so isn’t for the faint-hearted and though the blurb mentions Stranger Things, it doesn’t have its fun cheesiness, but rather a more bleak tone and more of an apocalypse vibe.