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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

31 Days of Horror: Day 18-- Review of The Women in the Walls [YA Horror]

For my final day of YA focused blog posts I am reviewing the newest book by my current FAVORITE YA horror author, Amy Lukavics.

I first noticed Amy last year with her debut, Daughters Unto Devils which I included in my Library Journal horror debuts column. In that column I said this about Amy's protagonist in that novel:
"Amanda is living Laura Ingalls Wilder’s worst nightmare, and adult and teen horror enthusiasts alike will love every minute of this well-crafted and terrifying debut."
After reading and loving Daughters Unto Devils,  I contacted Amy and asked her to participate in 31 Days of Horror last year. Here is the link to her post on the scariest book she ever read and how it influenced her own writing.

It is very hard for an author to follow up with a solid second book after such a widely praised debut, but I am here to tell you that Lukavics doubled down with The Women in the Walls [released in late September]. It is even better.

First, a quick plot summary via Goodreads:
Lucy Acosta's mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They're inseparable—a family.   
When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she's ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother's voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin's sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.
That’s what happens, here is why a reader will love it.

Appeal: Let’s start with the fact that this novel is dripping with dread from the very first pages. The creepy mansion, Lucy’s secret habit of self harm, the missing mother and now the missing Aunt; it is all part of the setup. And then, the supernatural stuff starts. It goes from atmospheric to outright terrifying fairly quickly, yet Lukavics walks you through this transition seamlessly. As a reader you get caught up in Lucy’s story, walk through the halls of the house with her, and see why she is unravelling. You truly believe it could happen for real. This is a huge success for any horror novel, to effortlessly make the reader actually feel the fear and Lukavics nailed it.

Speaking of Lucy, she is very flawed but so sympathetic. She is intriguing to watch because we know she has mental issues dues to her troubled life and she is a cutter, but we also know she is not lying. There is a terrible evil, supernatural curse on the women in her family that she is not responsible for, but also from which she can never escape. Readers will fall into her world immediately.

The pacing of this novel is brisk. As I mentioned above, the set up is oppressive but quickly established. Within a few pages we are right beside Lucy and can’t stop turning the pages to see where the story will lead us both next. I had trouble putting this books down for more than a few minutes because I literally was bursting wth anticipation to see what would happen next. And it all leads to an awesomely terrifying horror ending. I read a lot of horror novels and get very upset when the author can’t close the deal. Don’t worry about that happening here.

The entire book is wrapped up in the topic of deadly family secrets. This alone is a huge appeal for many readers whether they like horror or not. Don’t forget that this appeal crosses genre.

And finally, while this book is firmly placed within the YA lit world, it is an easy cross over for adults.  It is fairly gruesome which might surprise some adults encountering it as YA who may be expecting a lighter touch on the blood, but it is not over the top. Lucy is a teen yes, but she will connect with adult readers too. The multigenerational story line will capture adult readers-- it did for me. Also adults of popular, female driven, intense psychological suspense who don’t mind a supernatural element will thank you for suggesting this novel to them. They will not find it on their own so help them.

Three Words That Describe This Book: flawed but sympathetic narrator, extreme dread, family secrets

Readlaikes: First, the main character who is a self harming cutter with dark family secrets, who is flawed but extremely sympathetic, and a disturbing tone reminded me of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. You can use this link to read my review of that book. The link includes more readalike options too.

The horror Graphic novel series, Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez also features teen protagonists stuck in an old house, a supernatural family curse that goes back generations, and gruesome, dangerous, and terrifying dread. Click here to pull up the reviews of every book in that now completed series. To read each review in order, go to my reviews index.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is much less gruesome but just as atmospheric. It also prominently features dark and dangerous family secrets and an old house. Click here for a more from me on this book.

Did you like last year’s best horror novel, A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay? Then The Women in the Walls is a great readalike option. Both feature a family, in an old house, caught up in a supernatural evil that is destroying them physically and mentally.

Finally, while I was reading this novel, I couldn’t stop thinking about Shirley Jackson. Lukavics feels like she has taken Jackson as an inspiration and is telling this legends type of story but from the perspective of a woman in the 21st Century. Lukavics has more outright blood and guts than Jackson ever did, but the psychological punch from the flawed female protagonist is a perfect match. Specifically We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the best title match here.

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