Book review- After the woods by Kim Savage
I picked up this book at YALC2018 as I thought the cover looked interesting. It was one of the first YALC reads that I got around to, against, because I really liked the cover. Sadly the whole don’t judge a book by its cover applies here.
A year ago Julia went running with her friend Liv in the woods. Slightly ahead Liv is attacked by a man only for Julia to attempt to save her. Liv gets free and runs away leaving Julia at the man’s mercy. She is with him for two terrifying nights, that she can’t remember, before escaping.
A year on Liv is a holy mess, with an eating disorder, smoking and dating a social reject whilst Julia is still trying to put the pieces together. As the anniversary of the kidnapping comes around and a girl’s body is found in the woods Julia starts to realise that not everything is as it seems.
First the good.
The premise was engaging and I read all the way until the end. I found Julia to be an interesting protagonist and thought her ways of dealing with the abduction were compelling. She starts to use statistics and facts to comfort herself, she actively seeks out answers to her questions and tries to find people to trust. Her PTSD is dealt with quite tastefully without being shoved in your face. She doesn’t like being touched, the cold triggers her and flashbacks leave her exhausted and confused.
The writing style was good and the ratio of description to dialogue was just right. There wasn’t a great deal of over explanation and the actions of the characters wasn’t so over the top as to be un-relatable.
Now the bad.
Other than Julia and possibly Kellan, there were no other decent characters in the whole book.
Her mother was stereotypically workaholic absentee with feelings of guilt just enough to sort of care she has a daughter. The sperm donor father as a secret was an odd choice but didn’t really add anything to the story.
The journalist was so very beyond ethics as to be almost laughable (which when you think about current American journalism is a stretch). Think Gail Weathers mixed with Fox News.
And her best friend? Why was she friends with such a self-centred cow as Liv in the first place? There was literally no point at all in the whole novel, let alone the flashbacks that made me like Liv. I understand that the writer was trying to justify Liv’s actions by the way her mother had emotionally abused her for her whole life but it didn’t seem like Liv had any redeeming features.
I hated the Alice was treated too. She seemed like the stereotypical religious innocent who is lonely and wants to be friends so she’ll put herself in dangers way for our heroine who actually doesn’t care about her and is used and ignored in turn. There was very little point to her character.
I also saw no point to Kellan. He seemed a nice enough guy and I suppose having a romantic interest was fine but he seemed to vanish for large parts of the story until Julia needed a ride and then it was like the author remembered him.
I think that was the major problem with the novel- there were just too many strings in one bow and the author couldn’t decide what genre this was.
First the kidnap story and re-emerging memories. It’s a mystery book.
Then the Liv’s abusive mother and the ‘new’ child she gets to start on. Ah, it’s an exploration of emotional abuse and societies pressure to look a certain way.
Liv’s new relationship and manipulation and eating disorder. It’s how we deal with trauma.
Then there was the journalist who links up with Julia to try to piece together the story. It’s a crime novel.
Then there’s the links to gaming culture.
Then the PTSD and flashbacks.
Then the romance angle.
Then the small town police being disgraced.
There was so much going on that several times things were said and then totally dropped. At one point Julia goes out of her way to take pictures of a chart, then those pictures are never mentioned again. The whole ‘real father’ thing came from nowhere and went back there. And the death of the other girl, the pit and the cantaloupe rinds was never really explained properly.
One more thing that annoyed me was the fact that several of the ‘mysteries’ were, to me at least, obvious and inadequately foreshadowed.
Liv used to play a game online called Prey. Gee, wonder what that could lead to? Maybe her becoming prey? Giving the game that name was just lazy.
Liv has circles drawn in pen on her legs and elbows. What disease could she possibly be in the hospital for?
The kidnapper has an online girlfriend he’s never met who plays the same game as him. Wonder who that could be?
The kidnapper talks about ‘the wrong one’. Was his being in the wood a coincidence?
I think that the book was interesting, but could have done with someone taking a red marker to sections that were pointless.