And this is where Joe Hill embraces his inheritance and doesn't worry about what we'll think of his writing as compared to his dad's.
But of course I'm going to write about that anyway, because it's all over this book and not in a bad way but in an interesting sort of evolution of style.
First the general plot: there are certain people who find these sort of totem things that let them access different planes of senses and existence, and one dude uses his snazzy old car to steal children and take them to one of those planes in his own mind called Christmasland, theoretically so they'll be safe from whatever their parents are going to do to them in life. But whatever good intentions the dude started out with have twisted into a relentless search for kid essence to keep him young and he's this soul vampire who picks up companions to help him and there's a girl he wants because she can use her bike to find a bridge that takes her to whatever's missing. Long road-trip story short, evil dude grabs grownup Bike Girl's son and she rescues him from Christmasland with the help of a librarian from Iowa who can see things in her Scrabble tiles and the fat guy on a motorcycle who rescued her when Evil Dude came for her the first time.
So! This is a pretty lean plot that doesn't skimp on the details but doesn't add anything superfluous, and I think this is where Joe Hill might be, technically speaking, a better writer than Stephen King. Joe gets us through characterization and plot without any repetition or hysterical side notes, which is impressive.
...but the hysterical tangents of the villains going secretly crazy are my favorite things about Stephen King books, and I enjoy his ride a little better for its ragged shoulders. So, Stephen King might be a little better at storytelling.
But that doesn't mean Joe Hill isn't excellent there, too. It's all relative, man, and he's SO MUCH BETTER at how teenagers actually talk and interact with pop culture than his dad is (Cell and Under the Dome high fives - NEVER FORGET), which is a major part of this story because it follows Bike Girl as she grows up, forgets about her ability, and then finds it again in an epic quest that stays reluctant until she learns her son has been kidnapped. Then it is SO ON.
And while the ladies here are painted with a somewhat rough brush and are used a lot by the men in their lives - so are the men, man. So are the men. I appreciate the use of an anti-heroine, especially since her corruption arc makes sense from her childhood experiences that nudge her just enough off the pathway to get her in the real trouble that was close the whole time and she manages to get herself out of it. Sort of. And the fat motorcycle guy who helps her and she ends up marrying - did we mention he's fat? Because he is, and it's mentioned more than is necessary, more than anyone else's normal bits of body (less than the new hook-teeth the children grow, though, which is understandable) - he's just trying to do the right thing with what little he's got with her and the world.
This whole thing seemed a little muted until the end when the kid comes back BUT WAIT IS HE REALLY BACK-BACK? Because he's still acting weird, which I love because of course destroying Christmasland is not as easy as just blowing it up, come on. It lives in the mind, so of course you're going to have to destroy that token too.
How? READ TO FIND OUT. No, seriously, take a gander at this and see how Joe Hill's learned how to stretch out since Heart-Shaped Box. It's good. Also going back to the library, so if you're a resident of ye olde Richland County, ye shall have access right snappish.
Bonus: a New York Times article about the Amazing Writing King Family. It's adorable and makes me wish I wasn't too old to be adopted.