I first read Grau’s work in his collection The Nameless Dark. It contained a story entitled “Free Fireworks” which became one of my all-time favorite short stories, not just within any particular genre. I was excited to learn he had done a novella, and it does not disappoint.
The fair warning I should give you is that if you like the weird in your weird fiction to kick in quickly, you’re going to want to get past that before you read this novella. The story revolves around Hettie, a teenage girl who is awkward in every way you can conceive of. One day she meets Avery, the classic popular girl in school, and a brief but impactful encounter between them starts Hettie on a twisted path of obsession with Avery. Avery becomes everything that Hettie wants and needs to be. When Avery is struck down with a terminal disease, forcing her to be hospitalized, Hettie doubles down upon her obsession and starts exploring dark options to saving her truest friend.
And then it gets weird.
They Don’t Come Home Anymore is a story that creates its impetus through deep dives into the confusion of being a teenager, the desperation of acceptance amongst people who seem to be there just to make you miserable, and the yearning for connection. That impetus then leads to dark things that can be the truth behind mythologies, and the capability of obsession to overcome the terror of facing that is a horror unto itself. As I said the really weird part doesn’t kick in until the end, but everything leading into that should not be mistaken for being comfortable because it’s more common. Get this in your eyeballs.