Initial reaction: I think I’m going to note almost verbatim what I said in my last status update. This ended up being a quick read, but for execution – this did not sit well with me. The premise promised one thing, but the delivery was off to another. It wasn’t just the over religious focus, but the presentation of the story itself felt choppy and just not living up to the potential of what the book provided. I’ll explain more in the full review, but I may be a minority opinion in saying that this was such a disappointing read.
Not a review I like writing considering I love horror and mystery/suspense, even coming of age. But man – I keep thinking about “The Drowned Forest” and asking “What happened here?” And that’s not in the sense of knowing what happened in the work, but the execution of the novel was so mediocre for the potential promise the story had. That cover actually helped draw me in as well (it’s so pretty and eerie at the same time).
But usually if you sell your novel with the promise of two major authors (in this case, John Green meets Stephen King), you’re going to have problem if said story does not measure up to speed with those comparisons.
I actually didn’t mind (too much) the religious backdrop nor the intimate perspective of the character with setting and place initially. I’ve read religiously centric narratives before (Christian, Buddhist, Islam, etc.) and usually the narratives draw me in when there’s an interesting story to be had alongside the thematics. I only ask that as a reader, I’m able to follow it on my own, that it progresses with a natural rhythm, that it feels like I’m reading a personal narrative without being lectured or talked down to.
What I did mind in this story was the flip flopping of the narrative voice (went from general to direct address and back again), the hyperfocus on the religious references – to the point where it felt unnatural for the characters to reference them that many times, and the way this narrative seemed to talk down to its audience. It was too much and the presentation was so jarring. It felt like each time the narrative set up any amount of tension in the scene (i.e. a character death or something revolving around Holly’s backstory) , it went on a long winded tangent that wasn’t related to the tension established. It would go on for several pages before returning back to the point, and usually that was associated with trying to help Holly move on. But it took a long time to get there.
Note: Just because you have a young character at the helm of the story who may be scatterbrained, doesn’t mean that you should necessarily reflect that scatterbrained activity in the writing unless you have a purpose to it. Holding your reader and keeping them focused on the task and problem at hand is key. Otherwise, you may lose them. It’s also a loss if you don’t maintain some type of consistency or rapport with the narrative for identity – which I felt this narrative dropped the ball on several times. I tried to follow Jane and she lost me between the heavily religious dialogue and her brash assumptions. Not to mention taking several tangents away from the novel’s central questions. We know that Holly, Jane’s friend, was dead for a time after a jump that went horribly wrong. There was a ring of Holly’s that was very distinct and identifying. Somehow that was linked to something in the swamp, and no one believed that Holly causing people to die or be destroyed when she touched them.
The adults in this book were just as insufferable because they kept trying to suggest that Holly and her friend Tyler were somehow mentally off or influenced away from their religious background for noticing the oddities of Holly’s reappearance/grief/pain.
This book didn’t really do a good job balancing the slice of life elements/coming of age with the dialect and suspense. The transitions were awkward, descriptions not so great (“Bile splashed the back of my throat…”) and it was difficult to feel invested because of how much telling vs. showing went on. I didn’t feel scared, nervous or on the edge of my seat. I didn’t feel invested for some of the conflict because it was all so loose in its pacing. By the time I reached the end, it went to a noted conclusion, while I saw the development in the characters, I didn’t feel invested in them, and there were too many holes in terms of expansion, even for the narrative feeling long and drawn (a bad thing in my eyes for this novel).
In the end, it just didn’t deliver what it respectively sold, and I felt underwhelmed by it on many levels.
Overall score: 1.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Flux.