The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

My wife, and kids, are big fans of Good Mythical morning, the comedy/entertainment YouTube channel. My wife has been watching it for many, many years and she got the kids into it. I enjoy the show but not with quite the enthusiasm of the rest of the family. But when Rhett and Link have a book out I usually order it for my wife.

Such was the case with The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek, the first novel by the founders of the internet sensation that is all things Mythical. After my wife and daughter read it, I figured I would give it a try.

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents. 

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a first novel, it was a little choppy and started slow; a little rough around the edges you might say. It seemed like they were trying to force a little too much of their personality quirks and descriptions into the story and dialogue. Too much tell and not enough show, as they say. But part of that is trying to imagine Rhett and Link as the characters in the story (their names are Rex and Leif).

But once it gets going in has a pretty good pace and there is a flurry of activity and resolution at the end. It does seem to set up a sequel in the Epilogue.

One weird element is that I was unsure who the audience was for this book. Is this Middle Grade, Young Adult, or all ages? Is high school the middle school/starting high school the target since that is the age of the characters? It wasn’t clear reading it. I didn’t find it scary in the least so the horror aspect just felt off. But to be fair, unlike large swaths of the world, I am not a big Stranger Things fan so perhaps that was a missed connection. 1990’s nostalgia and pop cultural references play a big role.

In the end this was an interesting if not particularly gripping story to me. I’m guessing that fans of Rhett and Link have already devoured it and are impatiently waiting for the next book. If you are not a fan of the duo or of Stranger Things type stories not sure how much this will grab you.

Stranger Things carries a lot of cultural weight by itself these days—the legacy of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and the many weird movies and books that don’t get the credit they deserve—but these comedy writers have hit that vein hard with this VHS-era kicker that references the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Kickboxer on the very first page…

Sure, it’s kind of a rip-off, but it’s scary, it’s fun, and it’s one hell of a carnival ride. 

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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