“An atmospheric, chilling page turner from rising star Martin Stewart, reminiscent of Stand by Me and Stranger Things.

Sep, Arkle, Mack, Lamb and Hadley: five friends thrown together one hot, sultry summer. When they discover an ancient stone box hidden in the forest, they decide to each make a sacrifice: something special to them, committed to the box for ever. And they make a pact: they will never return to the box at night; they’ll never visit it alone; and they’ll never take back their offerings.

Four years later, the gang have drifted apart. Then a series of strange and terrifying events take place, and Sep and his friends understand that one of them has broken the pact.

As their sacrifices haunt them with increased violence and hunger, they realise that they are not the first children to have found the box in their town’s history. And ultimately, the box may want the greatest sacrifice of all: one of them.”

The ’80s ‘rites of passage’ trope has become a very popular angle to rework in recent years – the familiar themes of Stand by Me and the Goonies have been revisited in the likes of Stranger Things and IT, and The Sacrifice Box sits quite firmly in this bracket. 5 young friends, Sep, Lamb, Hadley, Mack and Arkle find themselves taking part in a sacrifice of sorts – each of them choosing something meaningful (to them) that should go into the strange box they’ve unearthed in the forest. The box is sealed, the pact is made. The rules of the Sacrifice Box are clear: Don’t go back to it at night, don’t go back to it alone, and don’t ever remove your sacrifice.
Fast forward a few years, and  we learn from September (Sep) that the group have moved on and don’t have much contact with each other, except for seeing each other at school. Sep is lonely, and constantly worried about his Mum, a police officer who was battling cancer when he made his sacrifice to the box and has since recovered. Sep is even bullied by some of his former friends, who call him ‘Septic’. The group has all but forgotten about their pact, and the box, until one day, horrible things start to happen that can mean only one thing – someone has broken the pact and opened the box…
There were a few odd things about this book – the focus seemed to move around a lot, and I felt at times I was trying to follow a couple of stories, all of which were quite depressing. The box had obviously been opened and filled before, in a different age, or ages. No longer had I worked out what was going on in one timeframe, I was in another.  Geographically, I wasn’t sure where it was supposed to be set, it seemed initially like it was an Island area in the US…but from the descriptions it sounded more like one of the islands off the British Isles – perhaps it is meant to be somewhere that could be anywhere, but it doesn’t really achieve that.  That’s not particularly important though, more an observation.

I did like the relationship between the group, it rings true that those friends you have when you are really little are often not your friends throughout the rest of your life. Some you lose contact with and find again, sometimes more than once. Some, you just grow out of. There’s also a role for everyone in the group from the leader, down to the clown.  I felt there was a lot of realism in the teenage feelings and frustrations – Sep never able to let go of the worry that his Mum is going to fall ill again and leave him alone. Every time she misses a meal or sleeps in late, the anxiety eats at him again. The relationship between Sep and his friend/employer Mario was really sweet & it was nice to know that Sep had someone looking out for him, even though I’m not sure he quite realised it at the time.

Aimed at teen and young adult readers, this is actually a quite scary novel – I found some of the gory descriptions quite nasty.  There is a lot of death, and fairly explicit descriptions of those deaths – particularly that of animals, which could be upsetting to some, especially more sensitive kids but I can also imagine younger fans of horror and the paranormal lapping it up.