Published October 2018
*Review by Alexa*
Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.
He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.
Who are the Sawkill Girls?
Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.
Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.
Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.
Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.
Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.
I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret: the quickest way to my heart (besides books, of course) is through dessert. One of my most beloved indulgences in the whole world is a well-made confectionary; however, like so many of the most wonderful things in life, balance is everything. If a dessert is too sweet, too tart, too moist (yep, I used the dreaded word), too dry, or too, well, anything, it ruins the entire dish. A perfect dessert takes the utmost skill and is a rare find, indeed. The same can be said of stories as well, but none more so than a horror story.
Horror is, to bring it all back around, the dessert of my book world. It is the taste that I crave but so rarely indulge in because—total honesty here—most of them just aren’t worth the calories. I grew up with the scary and the macabre, and cut my teeth on Sai King’s work when I was just a wee slip of a thing. I have high expectations for my scary stories: ominous but with a bit of hope, driving but not relentless, brutal but not gory, frightening but still beautiful, and, most importantly, it must have heart, emotions, and depth. Basically, I’m hoping for a unicorn, and there are so very few of those. Well, dear Reader, let me spread the good news: Claire Legrand has in fact written that unicorn with her book, Sawkill Girls.
“to all the girls who have my back—
the queens and the witches
the poets and the mothers—
to the girls who raise their voices
to the girls who light the way”
I’ve been putting off writing this review because, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how to write a review for a book that I adore so much. There is just so much that I want to say, but so much of the fun of this book is peeling back its layers and discovering its secrets, so I don’t want to give anything away and rob anyone of that joy. So, I will attempt to be both vague and informative, and not gush too much. With that preface, let’s dive right in.
First of all, can we all take a moment to give that cover the love that it deserves? It is the perfect embodiment of the story that it contains, and it sets up the feeling of the story quite nicely (who doesn’t love things that are both creepy and beautiful?). The dedication (see the above quote) and the prologue continue setting the stage for the reader, and they left me feeling like I was sitting around a campfire at night in the middle of the woods, sharing secrets and ghost stories with my girlfriends.
A cry, a shriek. A shrill grinding noise. Like her bones rubbing aainst one another. The scream of bones, both quiet and unbearably loud.
The mechanics of the story are all well done and work together so that the story has a cohesive feel. The pacing starts at a meandering walk, but quickly develops speed, and by the climax is running at a breakneck pace (something I enjoy in a horror story), but still provides a bit of a cool down to ease the reader back into reality. The story is told from the four POVs of the main characters, and each is distinct and well written; I always knew immediately who was telling the story without needing to look at the chapter heading. All of the primary characters—hero and villain alike—are fully formed and have clear motivations and character arcs. Even the side characters bring a lot to Legrand’s table, and none of them feel extraneous. I would love to tell you more about why and how much I love these characters…but I’m trying to be vague, so just trust me when I say that they are great. I will briefly say that the monster (I don’t think I’m giving anything away telling you that there is something awaiting you in these pages) is terrifying. Did I have a nightmare because of it? Yes. Did I maybe walk at a quicker-than-normal pace back to bed one night after getting up for some water? You, betcha ya. So, yeah, good luck with that.
Speaking of characters, this book has some of the finest representation that I’ve read in quite awhile. Characters in Sawkill Girlscover a wide range of sexualities, races, genders, and classes, but none of them are only their differences. For example, one of the characters self-identifies as asexual, something so rarely seen in any genre as to be criminal. Not only is the representation well done, but Legrand also ensure that, while this may be a big part of who the character is, it is not the only defining trait. All of the representation is done so well and seamlessly within the broader story.
But the Rock ignored the resentful cries of the sea and reached up into the trees that furred its hide, shaking lose a world of shadows.
Goodreads has Girls labeled as YA, Fantasy, and Horror, but I would like to instead coin a new category: feminist horror. This book, ladies and gentleman, is possibly one of the most unapologetically feminist stories that I have had the pleasure to read. This is a book written by a woman, about women, and about how women are treated within our patriarchal society. Do you have to read it that way? Of course not; like any good horror story you can read it purely at face value and still enjoy the hell out of it, but just a slight scratching at the surface will display a depth of analogy many stories don’t even begin to hit let alone pull off. The world is pretty bleak right now for a lot of us, but this book is a shining beacon—a lighthouse, if you will—across the dark, vast ocean of oppression and injustice. Again, I want to say so much more…but I will remain vague so as not to ruin the discovery and enjoyment.
Finally, I want to say something briefly about Legrand’s gorgeous prose. I literally marked dozens of passages and quotes throughout the book that are so beautifully written that it gave me pause. I haven’t yet read Legrand’s other work (although you can bet I will be now), but in this book her writing reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s: it’s beautiful and lyrical, but also subtle and not overly flowery. Some readers don’t appreciate that in a horror/scary story, but I’ve always found that beautiful words and descriptions give the necessary contrast to the terrifying and violent. In other words, you must have the soft to make the hard really count, and Legrand truly makes it count.
The trees were ill, unnatural. They were facsimiles of trees crafted by cruel hands that knew nothing of warmth.
I could probably go on for several more pages, but I won’t put you through that, Dear Reader. I’ll sum up by saying merely that I adored this book. It is everything that I wanted it to be, and more than I knew that I needed. It is truly the book that I—and so many others—need right now. It’s pure escapist fun, but also a rallying cry for women and men alike. I simply cannot recommend this book enough: it’s frightening, haunting, violent, bizarre, angry, beautiful, atmospheric, magical, forbidding…ok, ok, I’ll stop. Just go read it, alright?
As always, if you think I’m horribly wrong and you want to tell me about it, or you absolutely agree and want to discuss, I would love to hear from you!