Published by HarperTeen on July 14th 2020
Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.
If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.
Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.
But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.
In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.
Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.
Before I review Ghost Wood Song, I feel I have to share a confession: I am an enormous wimp. I can’t stand scary films in particular, but there’s been at least one book I was too creeped out by to finish (Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill in case you’re curious). Despite that, I love the idea of creepy stories, and I feel like horror has some amazing plot lines that I desperately want to explore. I forced myself to watch The Haunting of Hill House, even though it meant I had to wake my husband up to escort me to the bathroom after nightmares (true story), because I just had to know what was going on. Similarly, I watched a play through of The Last of Us/The Last of Us 2 because I was hooked on the storyline but too much of a wimp to keep playing through things that made me jump.
So, with all that in mind, you might be wondering if I’d taken leave of my senses requesting Ghost Wood Song – or if maybe I was just blinded by the cover and requested without reading the blurb! The truth is, I was just in the mood for something a little creepy, and hoped with this being marketed as YA I might be okay… and I’m really glad I took a chance on it.
Ghost Wood Song is beautifully written, and it’s just the right level of spooky for me – it’s unsettling, atmospheric and it’ll make you uncomfortable, but in that I-cannot-put-this-down way rather than a thanks-but-I’ve-had-enough-now kind of way. If you liked The Grace Year, The Girl with All the Gifts or Bird Box, it’s that sort of tension, where you’re apprehensive about what comes next but not outright terrified, and you keep going because you simply HAVE TO KNOW.
Shady Grove has inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts through music, and while that paranormal element is a huge part of the story, Waters has managed to give much more than just a ghost story. We see Shady learning how to control the abilities, seeing the possible consequences and trying to decide whether or not she even should use it. She’s dealing with her brother, who’s considered ‘troubled’ by the neighbours, and who has just been accused of a murder that she’s 99.999999% sure he didn’t commit. She’s got some complicated romantic feelings for a friend that are leaving her head spinning, all alongside trying to figure out her feelings and her sexuality. Despite the many plot threads and elements, the story doesn’t feel over-complicated; Shady is just a normal, three-dimensional teenager dealing with regular life issues, whilst also trying to figure out her new abilities. The different elements just give the cast of characters a well-rounded story, and it never feels like an ‘issues’ book – the bisexual rep felt authentic (to this bi woman anyway) and I found it easy to empathise with Shady and her complicated feelings towards both friends and family at different times.
The characters are a strength of the novel, as is the writing, as mentioned above. What let the story down a little for me was the predictability of the murder mystery plot. I thought it was quite easy to tell who did/didn’t commit the murder, and so there were times when I almost wanted to skim those scenes and get back instead to something I found less predictable, like how Shady dealt with her grief, or how the violin worked.
Buy it? This is one I’d pick up on a deal, and how could you not love looking at that cover on your shelf?!
In a nutshell: A great debut with a bisexual love triangle, lovely writing and just the right level of creepiness.