I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.
The Blair Witch Project meets Imaginary Girls in this story of codependent sisterhood, the struggle to claim one’s own space, and the power of secrets
Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. Moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over.
In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.
Then Deirdre disappears.
And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming she’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.
This was my first book by Amelinda Bérubé, so I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t read much horror anymore and I haven’t read a lot of YA horror at all, so I feel like I had contrasting expectations from the end of this book, and it’s hard to say whether they’ve been met or not. But let’s start with the rest of the book before I talk about the ending.
I would describe this as Sadie meets Never-Contented Things(and those are both novels I loved). The quest of the missing sister, the uncaring parents and the overall failure of adults to be there for teens paired well with the creepy forest atmosphere, and it was at times almost terrifying. If I were someone who rates different points of a book to do a mathematical avg, I would definitely be giving the atmosphere a solid five stars.
I have a harder time judging the characters. My first instinct is to mark them as stereotypes, but that’s not exactly right. They’re more archetypes of teens, and a lot of them are terrible (more on this later). If I were to say something about any of them, is how the love interest is a soft boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and since the stereotypical YA love interest is the asshole, brooding type, I more than appreciate this. Whether this book was kind to him, or to any of its character for that matter, is something I doubt, and I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions.
While I enjoyed most of this book and it was definitely going to be at least a full 4 stars, the ending left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not, per se, a bad ending. I feel like it’s not the plot itself that let me down, but the message that was sent, or at least the message I understood. And here comes what I mentioned before: horror doesn’t have to be hopeful, but YA does. What does, then, YA horror need to achieve? Is it okay to stick to the genre’s message without taking into account the target group? Is it okay to do the opposite? Is there a way to achieve both?
I feel like strictly speaking, the ending tried to be both hopeful and hopeless, which probably wasn’t easy to do. But inevitably when there’s both hope and not-hope, the negative will always override the positive, like mixing a lot of light paint and a little dark one will inevitably result in a dark color. And here there was so much more dark than light. When I say dark I don’t mean tragic. Perhaps that’s what throws me off, it’s so dark because it isn’t tragic. Tragic we can handle, we can get closure. Here, I’m not sure we get closure of any kind. In a way, this is where this book diverges from my Sadie comparison: Sadie is tragic and it has very good reasons to be that. This book had every chance to be hopeful or at the very least tragic, but it wasn’t either.
Terrible teens exist, and there are often reasons why they’re terrible, and all of us are or were terrible as teens in our own way. And we need to see that we’re not alone. But to see that and accept that in a narrative that’s so, ultimately, hopeless, without seeing a sliver of light other than “you’re not alone in being terrible, you’re surrounded by other terrible people too”, is frankly a little disappointing and defies at least part of this novel’s genre. That’s, at least, how I felt about it.
I don’t know if I would recommend this book. If you need hope in your life, if you can handle a dark story as long as there’s light at the end, I would say maybe avoid it. If you don’t care and want to read a creepy novel, give it a try.
TWs: animal deaths, violence, missing girl, blood, gore