Title: What the Woods Keep
Author: Katya De Becerra
Reviewer: Austin P. Sheehan
Synopsis: On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home―on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.
Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.
As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, her friend Del in tow, it begins: Neighbors whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible―something that threatens reality itself.
Review: Welcome to my review of What the Woods Keep, a spellbinding debut by Katya De Becerra. And here is its gorgeous cover!
Katya has lived in and explored Russia, America and Peru before migrating to Australia and studying cultural anthropology. Her love of science and anthropological studies are apparent throughout this novel, which add a sense of realism to the piece. I also got the impression that the story combines the myths and folklore of her European roots with the locations she might have lived in or explored while in America.
The story focuses on Hayden, an eighteen year old girl whose life has only just started approaching normal after the loss of her mother near the woods of their Promise home ten years ago. On her eighteenth birthday the lawyer managing the estate of her mother calls her, there’s something that her mother wanted her to have – the family home in Promise. And a handwritten card with a creepy message, for good measure. It turns out there are secrets her parents kept from her, questions that can only be answered about her family, and about herself, by returning to Promise.
But What the Woods Keep is about more than revealing a family’s secrets, but about accepting yourself, accepting change, about reconciling the known and the unknowable, the mysteries of the universe. It’s so good, and I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone! The mysterious, eerie build-up is superb, and the last ten chapters are an intoxicating, unpredictable thrill-ride, and up ’til the end you won’t know how it ends.
There’s a lot that I love about What the Woods Keep. I love how dark and creepy it is, I love that it’s about the friendship between Hayden and Delphine. I love the scientific angle the MC takes to rationalise unexplainable phenomena, to explain the complexities of life, it’s all really cleverly done and engaging. One thing I really loved was the German / European mythology, with the Nibelungenlied a recurring theme. Another thing that was done well was the inclusion of documentation providing more background on what’s happening – from Hayden’s psychologist, her father’s work journals, and her own diaries.
I’ve long thought that one of the marks of a good book is how long it stays with you after you’ve read it. And this book does that – it’s been a week since finishing it, and I haven’t been able to move on, I’m still thinking about the book and the questions it has left me with – about time travel, about Hayden’s mother, about what has been left in the woods, but – most pressingly – if there might be a sequel!
Criticisms. It’s a book that’s hard to criticise, to be honest. It struck me as odd that in this book where Hayden’s searching for her long-lost, long-dead mother, that it’s her living father who is undoubtedly there that’s strangely absent. The other thing was the secret research facility in Promise. I felt from the outset that they would be a key antagonist, that they’d capture Hayden and reveal their nefarious intent, or at least more actively oppose Hayden’s actions, but… It could be a really clever red herring too – who wants really predictable books anyway?
Ultimately, What the Woods Keep is a really clever, really engaging read and I’m already looking forward to De Becerra’s next book!
Here’s a link to Katya’s own blog where you can find out more about her and buy a copy of What the Woods Keep, though you’ll likely find a copy in your nearest bookshop too!
If you liked this review, have a look at my blog https://austinpsheehanau.blogspot.com/
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