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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
What makes you decide on your next read? Is it the book’s description? Do you follow favorite authors or preferred genres? For me, the final decision to select a book rests on what I read in that opening chapter. If it hooks me within the first few pages, as happened with Cullen, a psychological thriller by Solomon Petchers, that’s my next read. Once I started Cullen, I couldn’t put it down, and if you’re concerned about bullying and the effects it has on both the victims and their families, after Chapter 1, you won’t want to stop either.
Cullen is a good kid but he’s been bullied for years. All he wants is to be a friend and have friends. Hoping things will be different at a summer wilderness camp he attends, he is bullied so mercilessly that he mentally withdraws into a dark, windowless room. Seeking help for Cullen, his distraught mother puts her trust in Dr. Morris. The doctor’s approach is the currently popular practice of using EMDR, but it’s delivered through a virtual reality headset that the good doctor himself has programmed. He has named the headset “Jacob” but why? Therein lies the crux of the plot of this credulity-stretching, but mesmerizing novel that will keep you turning pages until you find out, as Cullen himself does, that “The power isn’t always in the things we do, but the things we don’t do.”
Solomon Petchers has been in education for the past 24 years, so there’s no doubt that the heartbreaking student behavior he describes in Cullen is based on first-hand familiarity with bullying. In this novel, Petchers merges reality with a degree of horror similar to the works of Stephen King, making a story about bullying even more disturbing. He has geared this novel toward young adult readers, many of whom will readily identify with the trauma suffered by Cullen. But that said, rather than ending on a down note, the novel offers hope that hurts and scars can be healed through communication, caring, and love. Skillfully written, with lots of dialogue, touching characters, and plenty of suspense, Cullen will engage readers of all ages.