Yes, The May Queen Murders is just as creepy as the cover promises. It is the rural legend that nightmares are made of, and it may give you nightmares. I thoroughly enjoyed the out of place and time feel, which added a lot to the atmosphere and a general sense of unease. If you like your country folk weird and your precautionary tales horrifying, this is your book.
Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.
Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.
This is an atmospheric read, full of country superstitions, old wives tales, and long held secrets. It is centered around the legend of a murderer who inhabits the forest outside a small, isolated Missouri community. The setting is what is going to make or break this book for most readers. It is one that is a bit hard to place in time. The community is so out of synch with the modern world – they seem to be stuck in an era closer to early American settlers, wearing long dresses and relying on teas and tinctures over modern medicines, but it is clear that the world around them is probably closer to our modern times. This isolation and separation is key to the plot, the characters, and the atmosphere of gently creeping horror. Ivy, the narrative voice in this story will give many readers that same feeling of being out of time while still being part of our time. Her experience of watching close relationships unravel when faced with the diverging paths inherent in growing up is a universal theme that many YA readers will connect with, as are the feelings that come with being a social outsider in the larger picture of the world. However, there is just something so alien and maybe exotic about her and her world that some readers will embrace it, and others will struggle to connect with.
The plot is paced to develop suspense and that sense of wrongness that slowly builds until it breaks wide open and unleashes a malevolent chaos. It felt like I was watching an approaching storm cloud, and when the fury hit, I was still a bit unprepared. Despite my excellent skills of prediction, the twists and turns this book took left me feeling slammed by the climax. This went from being a tense and rather slow simmering mystery to a full on teen horror flick in a heartbeat. There were a lot of players on the stage, and it took a bit of hustle to get them all in place for a resolution. I think it could have been a littlle less chaotic, but that confusion did mirror the confusion the poor protagonist certainly must have been experiencing. I ended up having to re-read parts to make sure I had it all straight.
I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed Julie Berry’s All the Truth That’s in Me, which had the same creepy and time lost feel. I personally enjoyed the book, but I acknowledge that other readers will find it too strange to stick with. Language and situations are appropriate for high school and beyond.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.