Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Disclaimer: mild to moderate spoilers
Before we get into the review, let me tell you that I’m not a fan of horror. As a writer, it was quite surprising to realize I could write horror well (especially since I don’t read it). But ask me to read one, and I'd find a good excuse to pick another genre.
With a plan to expand my reading horizons, I chose this book and began reading on 1st Jan. Some new year it’s going to be.
The blurb mentions how the book is written in the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project, and though I wasn’t exactly aware of how the style would be, it did sound interesting. The book is categorized in quite a few genres apart from horror. It deals with young adults, has elements of paranormal (not surprising), mystery, and LGBT+ characters.
In short, the story is about Sara and her friends playing a ‘game’ or rather going into the forest in search of her sister Becca who was lost (presumed run away) a year ago. We get bits and pieces of details as the story progresses so that none of it overwhelms the reader. That said, many characters are introduced one after another in the high school classroom. It can be a bit confusing initially.
The narrative alters between Sara’s interview recordings with Dr. Andrew Ashford and Sara’s POV. Chat messages, video recordings, emails, etc. are used to show what has happened in the forest (before and during). The style of narration is not for everyone. The tone is semi-detached, and the writer follows the unreliable narrator style for Sara’s POV. It becomes clear in the second half of the story and more towards the end.
Back to the story, we see Sara going into depression after the loss (disappearance) of her sister. The bond they share is evident, we can’t help but wonder if there will be a the twist. Becca is adopted and elder to Sara by a few months. This doesn't affect their relationship. Family dynamics are also included to make the story realistic. The writer tried to diversify her characters as much as she could. She was careful not to go for the usual tropes when dealing with LGBT characters. None of their orientation is emphasized. The focus is on the reactions and responses of characters to various situations.
The first two days were slow (reading), and I didn’t mind that. It helped me get into the story without rushing through the pages. Once I got a hang of her style, I picked up the pace.
Things I like in the book:
The students/ friends are real, emotional, vulnerable, and even jerks at times. The actions are involuntary most of the time. They try to be brave. They are curious, even if it could take their lives.
The emotions are relatable. Love, anger, mistrust, hatred, jealousy, fear, etc. are justified sooner or later.
Everything mentioned in the story has a role to play, one way or another. From the crows to the tattoos, everything is significant.
The friendship between the characters shines in many places throughout the book. They fight, argue, and flip out. Still, they don’t let the other(s) walk alone into danger.
There is no excessive use of cuss words. People have varying opinions on this. For me, using cuss words for the sake of it doesn’t make sense. Sprinkling them at random places to make it more ‘YA’ sounding disturbs the flow. The writer doesn’t do that.
The atmosphere is spooky, scary, and almost real. It doesn’t terrify me (I didn’t have any nightmares), but it is alive and easy to visualize. The imagery is strong and plays the scenes in front of the readers.
It’s not too gory either. While there are elements of gore (the descriptions of people in the dark forest), I didn’t find it unappetizing. Or maybe it’s just me. If you are sensitive to organs showing through the bodies, strange creatures in the dark, and people being smashed, it’ll be uncomfortable to read.
The plotline is mapped well. Things don’t happen without reason. There are 7 gates (mentioned earlier and repeated throughout the story), and there are clues (in Becca’s little notebook and other sources) that give enough information to the readers about what might happen next. The interview sessions with Dr. Ashford also give us more information (foreshadowing).
Using local history to create a good base for the story worked with the setting. The story revolves around a local legend, Lucy Gallows, a fifteen-year-old who walks into the woods and vanishes on the day of her sister’s wedding. We do know what happened to her (at the end of the book) but the reason is a bit vague.
The writing is gripping. As a reviewer and a judge for writing events (in another group), I tend to focus more on the writing style and adverbs. Any story where I don’t count the adverbs or excessive use of any word is well-narrated.
The friends have enough individuality to not be confused with another.
If you are wondering why I give the book only 4 stars, here are the reasons:
The twist at the climax was predictable. It was well executed, but still predictable. It reminded me of regional horror movies. Not exactly a good feeling after reading something so engaging.
It’s no surprise that some characters have to die. One of them died a bit too early to suit me.
A little more about Abby, Miranda, and Dr. Ashford would have been nice. There is some backstory, just not enough. Probably the writer wanted to keep the focus on the main plot.
A character (or name) introduced around 1/3rd of the book ends up plays a prominent role. We realize it only after reaching the end. There isn’t enough information about that character either.
Overall, the book is engaging while allowing the readers to stay one step away from what’s happening. This doesn’t work for all readers, but it did for me. I don’t want to be too involved in horror stories and have nightmares. This is a good YA horror mystery with a nice ending. Things appearing to be returning to normal one step at a time as we turn the last page.
About the author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.
Congratulations to Ella Moon on winning the journal and pen from our Handwriting Day giveaway! Congrats, Ella!