The Thicket by Noelle W. Ihli
I grew up in the country surrounded by forests and farmland. There were corn fields nearby and I remember how tall the stalks were when I walked through them. It was impossible to see the edge of the field. I had the reassurance that if I just followed the rows, I'd eventually reach the edge. But if it's a corn maze, the paths could lead anywhere...
Norah and her brother go to the Thicket, a haunted Halloween theme park where actors jump out at people to scare them. At the centre of the park is an enormous corn maze. I've been in a few of these haunted houses and one haunted hay ride over the years. Even though I knew it was fake and I was safe the whole time, adrenaline and fun took over and I found myself screaming with the others because I think under all that fun there is a tiny part of me that wondered, "what if it IS real this one time?"
That's the fear that The Thicket taps into. At the park, Norah grows fed up with her little brother and leaves him to finish the haunted park alone. Unfortunately, this time the horrors are all too real and her brother doesn't make it out alive. Norah must come to grips with her grief, guilt and the killer in order to deal with what happened that night.
The corn maze is not just the centre of the park, but it also features prominently in the climax of the story. The reader helplessly watches as a group of teenagers ends up in the corn maze to be tracked down by an unhinged killer.
This novel is scary, well-written and well-paced. The villain is particularly terrifying. He is relentless and evil. Without revealing too much I hope, there is no attempt to soften him with a sob story and he is not suddenly stupid at the climax like a lot of villains tend to be in order to let the hero win. I appreciate this. I love a complex bad guy, of course, but sometimes, it's good to read a story with a solid villain.
There is some gore in the novel, but it's nowhere near excessive. If you like a tight, gripping horror-thriller, then definitely pick up The Thicket.