Wednesday 18 March 2015


Book review: Under My Skin by James Dawson

My edition: Paperback, published on 5 March 2015 by Hot Key Books, 301 pages.

Description: Seventeen-year-old Sally Feather is not exactly a rebel. Her super-conservative parents and her treatment at the hands of high school bullies means that Sally’s about as shy and retiring as they come – but all that’s about to change.

Accidentally ending up in the seedier side of town one day, Sally finds herself mysteriously lured to an almost-hidden tattoo parlour – and once inside, Sally is quickly seduced by its charming owner, Rosita, and her talk of how having a secret tattoo can be as empowering as it is thrilling. Almost before she knows what she is doing, Sally selects sexy pin-up Molly Sue, and has her tattooed on her back – hoping that Molly Sue will inspire her to be as confident and popular as she is in her dreams.

But things quickly take a nightmareish turn. Almost immediately, Sally begins to hear voices in her head – or rather, one voice in particular: Molly Sue’s. And she has no interest in staying quiet and being a good girl – in fact, she’s mighty delighted to have a body to take charge of again. Sally slowly realises that she is unable to control Molly Sue… and before long she’s going to find out the hard way what it truly means to have somebody ‘under your skin’.


With fantastic young adult releases such as Fish Out of Water, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and Breakdown, Hot Key Books have really established themselves as the go-to YA publisher for me and James Dawson is one of my favourite authors on their list. I had the pleasure to review two of James' previous novels – Say Her Name and Cruel Summer (different publisher) – and so I was thrilled when I heard there would be another Hot Key Books/Dawson release not too long after the last one.

I was particularly excited to read James' latest novel because I hadn't read a good YA thriller in a while (possibly since his last book came out...) and his are some of the best currently being published. However, when the cover and blurb for Under My Skin appeared online I wasn't quite so sure anymore; while the illustration was certainly striking and beautifully done, a story centred on tattoos didn't really seem like my kind of thing. Luckily I was proven wrong as this excellently written, not to mention hugely gripping, book really delivers on all fronts.

Protagonist Sally is a goody two-shoes but when a homeless person follows her while she's in the bad part of town, she ends up hiding out inside a tattoo shop and suddenly she is convinced that she needs a tattoo to boost her confidence. Despite the fact that she is underage and the owners don't ask for her guardians' consent, plus offer the tattoo free of charge, alarm bells don't ring – she's too enthralled by the prospect of having the gorgeous image of the Molly Sue drawing on her body. Of course there is something sketchy going on and before Sally knows it the tattoo takes control of her body... with deadly consequences.

I have said this in a previous review about one of James' book but it's more evident than ever: he really is the modern British R.L. Stine. Not only are his books all thoroughly creepy and disturbing (similar in feel to the Fear Street and Point Horror books I devoured in the late nineties/early noughties), he also manages to write them at such rapid speed that several new ones come out each year! He is clearly super human (and/or doesn't sleep), and the regular releases make for a real treat for his fans.

While Sally from Under My Skin isn't the strongest main character, she is a very likeable and appealing one, and despite her terrible naivety as a reader you cannot help but root for her all the way – even though the odds are very much in favour of the much stronger, not to mention hugely sinister, Molly Sue. Her disturbing persona added a feeling of unease to the novel and combined with James' completely gripping way of storytelling I was hooked to this chilling thriller as soon as I turned the first page.

Laced with frightening descriptions of the terrible things that happen to the characters, this novel edges towards horror at times yet despite its eerie core the prominent themes within the book are positive ones, such as friendship, confidence and acceptance. It doesn't happen often that a story within this genre also touches upon such important topics for young adults, but James is a master at creating novels that are simultaneously entertaining, seriously creepy, and hugely relevant to today's teens. The heavy dose of pop-culture references throughout, and the main characters' obsession with fictional TV-series Satanville, add to the feeling of familiarity, which makes it so easy to feel connected to the characters.

Spine-tingling chilly at times and unexpected to the final page, with Under My Skin James Dawson has once again proven he is the queen of teen (thrillers).

You can pre-order the novel from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:


Twitter: @_jamesdawson


Many thanks to the publisher for copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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