Beast by Watt Key

Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot is a chilling, gripping tale of survival in the unknown.

Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot by Watt Key. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020, 215 pages.

Beast by Watt Key

Reading Level: Middle Grade, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 12-16

Adam Parks was found by the side of the road. When he came to in the hospital with a police sergeant looking down at him, he couldn’t remember what happened. Or not entirely: he and his parents were on their way back from Disney World on Highway 98, late at night, when something loomed up in the middle of the road. Dad swerved and their car plunged into the Suwannee River. Adam doesn’t remember the river, only the road, and the obstacle. Not a wild pig, or a bear. Not anything that he’d ever seen or imagined.

With his parents missing and presumed dead, he moves in with his Uncle John and tries to build a new normal. But his thoughts keep going back to that night, that thing, that beast . . . Sasquatch? Others have seen it too. After scanning reports on the internet, Adam finds someone relatively close by, an old man named Stanley who’s become a recluse. When Adam tracks him down, Stanley appears to be a loon and a conspiracy theorist, except that the experience he describes and the things he’s seen resonate with Adams own tormented memories. What drives you mad isn’t seeing them. It’s not having the answers. Adam decides he must have answers. With the bare minimum of supplies and only a pocket knife for defense, he disappears into the alligator-infested swamp.

The full title—which makes Beast sound like nonfiction—kind of gives the whole plot away, but whether Bigfoot exists is almost beside the point. (The author, from his own experience, thinks he probably does.) Within our comfortable, insulated lives we forget how much of this earth remains wild and what hitherto undiscovered life may be “out there.” I was reminded of Perelandra, the middle volume of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, where Ransom encounters creatures who exist for their own sake. Or for their Creator’s.

God is not referenced directly, but at one significant point Adam recalls Psalm 23 in its entirety. The first-person voice at times sounds more like Watt Key than Adam Parks, and to imagine a 13-year-old boy heading into the swamps alone requires some suspension of disbelief. But the terse style is well suited to this gripping story, which reads almost like horror fiction at times but emerges into light. Adam is changed—not “back to normal,” but able to make something of what he knows.

Overall Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.5

Considerations:

  • Some mild profanity, of the “hell” variety, all from crotchety Stanley.
  • Adam’s experiences of fear and terror are not for the fainthearted.

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Beast by Watt Key

Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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