During Daniel Kraus' formative years, he consumed a steady media diet of "The Twilight Zone" episodes and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" films.
It seems apt, then, that in his later years he became a novelist with a particular interest in horror and all of the genre's heart-pounding qualities.
"From a very young age there was something that was attractive to me about being scared even when it made me physically ill," Kraus, 37, said recently. "I think it was the power of that feeling of fear that would continually draw me back to horror."
Kraus' third young-adult novel, "Scowler," is bound to scare up many jaw-dropping reactions.
The book follows "The Monster Variations" and "Rotters," both of which included violence — but not to the level of "Scowler."
"I have no doubt that (the book) will be too off-putting for some people," Kraus said. "But when I was a teen I loved off-putting stuff. The more off-putting the better."
Set in 1981 on a farm in Iowa, "Scowler" describes the often gruesome physical abuses that the characters, Ry, the 19-year-old narrator, his younger sister and his mother experience at the hands of family patriarch. In one scene, Ry discovers his mother after his father has sewn her body to their bed sheets.
Delacorte Press' Beverly Horowitz, the editor of Kraus' three novels, said the intense violence adds context for Ry's desperate actions.
"I think part of what the ratcheting up of the despicable behavior does is it helps you understand how Ry has no choice but to turn his father in (to the police)," she said. "He had no choice, and if you have no choice, you must do the courageous thing. … The difference between fiction and real life is an author can manipulate the intensity to help a reader understand behavior and choices."
The book's brutality also calls attention to the very real issue of domestic abuse. Karen Jensen, a youth services librarian at the Betty Warmack Branch Library in Grand Prairie, Texas, said in an email that the book is disturbing but not "unnecessarily so."
"There are hands down some of the most disturbing scenes that I have ever read in 'Scowler,'" she wrote, "but they moved me to compassion for our main character and his family. I think they also make you think about the cycle of abuse and violence that can happen in the lives of our young people."
The difficulty of the book's story affected Kraus as well. Kraus stopped writing the book twice and at one point was sure he wouldn't finish it.
"(The content) didn't affect me intellectually," he said. "I could talk about the book, but I think maybe subconsciously it started to bother me. Because I gave up the book twice and then returned to it, I felt like I was dragging myself over the same coals and it got to be kind of painful. It got to the point where I didn't really want to touch it anymore because I connected the book with pain and struggle."
The book includes an element of science fiction: A meteor strikes Ry's farm and the prison where his dad is held, allowing him to escape and return to terrorize the family. To save his mother and sister from his father, Ry resurrects three imaginary friends who helped him survive the abuse of his younger days.
"When the meteor falls … everything becomes scrambled," Kraus said. "There is definitely two different ways to interpret what is going on. If you want to give into the fantasy, you could say there is something spectral going on here, something caused by the meteorite, but it is completely legitimate to look at the story and interpret that nothing supernatural at all happened."
A freak meteor. A diabolical, disturbed man on the loose. A boy who has the power to determine the story's outcome. It sounds like a "Twilight Zone" episode.
"Yeah, it could be," Kraus said, smiling. "(The meteor) is the sort of game-changer aspect that is similar to (stories on) 'The Twilight Zone' where ordinary people and are thrown in a completely random episode and we get to see how they react."
Courtney Crowder covers the Chicago literary scene for Printers Row Journal.
By Daniel Kraus, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 304 pages, $16.99