‘They Threw Us Away’ By Daniel Kraus – Middle School Horror Book Review

If you’ve read my review of The Living Dead, the 2020 book compiled by the late, great George A. Romero and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Kraus (read our interview with him here), you’ll know how much I loved it. I’ve been a huge fan of Kraus for years now, who was known for his collaborations with Guillermo del Toro, The Shape Of Water (2018) and Trollhunters (2015), the former of which was based on the same idea the two created for the eponymous Oscar-winning film while the latter was developed into an Emmy Award-winning Netflix series. He’s also earned himself Bram Stoker Award nominations for his books, Scowler (2012) and Rotters (2013).

After reading The Living Dead, I found out that Kraus has yet another new novel coming out this year, a middle school graphic novel called They Threw Us Away, illustrated by Rovina Cai (The Giant And The Sea 2004), which is releasing Friday, September 19, 2020. I was, of course, thrilled that I was asked to review this one as well. I already knew that the author has a talent for capturing the voice of the lonely and scarred, but this book seemed like it went in a totally different direction.

They Threw Us Away, Daniel Kraus, book cover
They Threw Us Away cover art

Not only am I a fan of dark, twisted horror, but I also work in my town’s public library as the assistant to the Children’s Librarian. I have to admit that I have read—and enjoyed—a fair amount of Juvenile literature. Give me ten minutes, and I can give you lists of all my favorites in any category, including the scary stuff. Besides the obvious Goosebumps and Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark, my current favorites are Max Brallier’s The Last Kids On Earth series (read our review of the Netflix series here), Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series, and The Knife Of Never Letting Go series by Patrick Ness. But I digress. We’re here to talk about They Threw Us Away.

They Threw Us Away synopsis:

Buddy wakes up in the middle of a garbage dump, filled with a certain awareness: he’s a teddy bear; he spent time at a Store waiting for his future to begin; and he is meant for the loving arms of a child. Now he knows one more thing: Something has gone terribly wrong.

Soon he finds other discarded teddies—Horace, Sugar, Sunny, and Reginald. Though they aren’t sure how their luck soured, they all agree that they need to get back to the Store if they’re ever to fulfill their destinies. So, they embark on a perilous trek across the dump and into the outer world. With ravenous rats, screeching gulls, and a menacing world in front of them, the teddies will need to overcome insurmountable challenges to find their way home.

Equal parts Toy Story and Lord of the FliesThey Threw Us Away is the unforgettable start of a captivating series.

Let me start off by saying that They Threw Us Away is about teddy bears. Yup, the huggable, stuffed kind. And I loved it. Hearing that may make you think I’ve gone soft, that I should turn in my Horror Card right now. Teddy bears? Really? But before you go, hear me out. These are no ordinary toys, and this is no Disney adventure. These naive, unwanted Furrington Teddies have been ripped from the only life they knew—the Store—and dumped unceremoniously at the local landfill. They’ve been abandoned to a life of squalling dump rats and vicious gulls. They have done nothing wrong, and yet, they’re being exiled to certain death.

‘Unlike most toys, these teddies are aware of what is going on, and they are heartbroken but determined to find out why this has happened to them. All they’ve ever wanted was to be hugged by a child and blessed with Forever Sleep, but now, it seems those hopes are dashed. Together, they are kind, thoughtful, terrified, intelligent, broken, and pissed off, all wondering why they threw us away.

A page from They Threw Us Away by Daniel Kraus, illustrated by Rovina Cai

It’s on this adventure to find out why this has happened to them that they have some pretty terrible experiences. Their danger is real. Teddies can be hurt. They can become jaded and wounded and ripped apart. They can lose eyes and limbs. Sometimes they survive these tragedies … and sometimes they don’t. And, as the awful stench of this uncaring world unfurls around them, they learn from the stoic, grey Reginald the story of the first Furrington Teddy, a tale that gives the wanderers their history and even a bit of hope. But, in a world like this, is hope enough?

As an adult book, They Threw Us Away is a light, sweet story with dark and often cruel elements. But, for a young middle schooler less adept at the realities of life, the events of the book may be too dark and even depressing. I don’t know if I’m just being overly sensitive, but They Threw Us Away seems to go beyond what I would consider a middle school horror. The author has no problem bringing up real world problems like fear, anger, death, and abandonment, things some children may not be ready to deal with. It’s much more Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark than it is Goosebumps. Characters die painful, horrendous deaths. Monsters form from innocuous bits, creating something more horrible than the sum of its parts. But through it all, there’s a sense of hope, albeit a sense of safety.

They Threw Us Away, Daniel Kraus, Rovina Cai
Illustration of the murderous gulls, beautifully sketched by the talented Rovina Cai, posted by Daniel Kraus on Twitter

As an adult, I can appreciate They Threw Us Away and what the author is trying to say. I personally love the story, and I can’t wait to hear more about these struggling, unraveling bags of silk and fluff. I want to know why they were thrown away. I want to find out where they’ll end up, and I want to learn with them along the way. Will they be the same sweet yet emotional creatures that they were when they started out? Or will the real world crush their bodies and their souls?

But hey, who am I anyway. I’m just an old person working in the library. I haven’t been a kid in *cough* years. What do I know about what kids can—or should—deal with? Back then, I was right there reading Scary Stories and watching Are Your Afraid Of The Dark, and loving every minute of it. Maybe I’m reading to much into this (no pun intended), and They Threw Us Away is exactly what this generation of middle schoolers need. They’re tougher than we would like to think, aren’t they? Pick it up at the link below, and let me know your thoughts.

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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