I am every mystery author’s nightmare. I can guess the ending of almost any book, probably because I’ve read a bunch of books, but it might be my freaky superpower. Your choice. Either way, I just didn’t see this one coming, and that means After The Woods might just give you a jolt in the end, too. It wasn’t a perfect read, but I thoroughly enjoyed the reading, so it is a solid four star book in my mind.
Would you risk your life to save your best friend?
Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.
This was one surprise of a book. I wasn’t expecting the narrative voice to be so unlike a victim. Julia’s horrible experience should have left her a quivering mess (I certainly would have responded that way), but the author chose to portray her as the victim who goes the other direction, and I appreciated that. She is smart and strong and determined to dig deep in the muck of what led up to her kidnapping. I liked Julia’s perspective from the start, and though she sometimes sounded more like an adult than a teen, she had the impulsive nature and eye rolling attitude that convinced me she was, indeed, sixteen.
The other surprise was where this plot went. It brings out the monsters that hide in their mother’s basements and get swept up in fantasy worlds fueled by the internet, but it also drags forward the monsters who sit next to you in church and at the country club. I thought I knew what this story was about all the way through. I had a good idea of what the resolution would reveal, but I have to say that seeing the whole thing laid out at the end was rather breathtaking and shocking. It was a Gone Girl/We Were Liars/The Sixth Sense kind of a moment. I love those moments!
Clearly, I enjoyed this book, but there were times when the narrative felt disjointed on the first read through. It caused a little confusion, but it didn’t really keep me from enjoying the book. As I stated earlier, Julia didn’t always talk like a real teen, and I found that a little off putting, particularly at the beginning of the book. Overall, I thought this was a compulsively readable book, and I didn’t want to put it down until the end. I think my high school readers will enjoy it as well, so it is going on my classroom library wish list. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers and psychological horror. Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers, but adults can enjoy this book as well.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.