Welcome back to Paperback Throwback, where I highlight a book from my ever-growing collection of older paperbacks, ‘90s and prior. Come check out everything from Zebra’s line of horror to Scholastic’s preteen Apple Paperbacks, and everything in-between—you’ll know them by their stylishly cheesy covers, flashy plots, and cheap prices.
Join me on this stroll down Literary Memory Lane. Stops include Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and anywhere else mass market paperbacks may be lurking.
Browsing through recently published paperbacks from Zebra Books, you might expect to find the newest romance from Fern Michaels or Donna Kauffman. This is certainly in line with Zebra’s initial focus. First started in 1975 as an imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp., Zebra embraced the romance genre, particularly historical, and quickly churned out numerous works by new and established authors. But, in 1980, editorial tastes shifted and the new decade ushered in the first in a long stream of mass market horror titles that lasted through the mid-1990s.
Only Child by Patricia Wallace, published in 1985, exemplifies these books: a dark cover with a skull, lots of touching on hot button issues of the time, and a story focused on a mysterious pyrokinetic child.
Hannah is seemingly a miracle. She’s survived a plane crash that killed eight other occupants without so much as a scratch. She can’t tell anyone her last name or even where she came from, but a local priest welcomes her into his home. However, it’s not long before strange things begin happening, and local children start disappearing one by one. And for the local doctor and sheriff, all evidence suggests Hannah might not be as innocent as she appears.
Patricia Wallace, like so many authors in the Zebra line, specializes in creepy children. And Hannah is unsettling—mostly because of her inability to form a personality. While adults dote on her, she interacts with as much charm as wallpaper. She’s a sleeping nonagenarian in a child’s body.
But this deficit of character is not to suggest there’s a lack of hair-raising moments. Wallace has crafted a few unsettling scenes, particularly one focused on two children lost in fog, and these represent horror at its finest. Toss in a melodramatic love story, compelling but unresolved side-plots, and a campy ending, and—well, Hannah might be boring, but nothing else is.
Title: Only Child
Publisher: Patricia Wallace
Publication Date: October 1985