Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Berkley – Penguin Random House, via Netgalley for an honest review.
Plot: When people go missing in the sleepy town of Smith’s Hollow, the only clue to their fate comes when a teenager starts having terrifying visions, in a chilling horror novel from national bestselling author Christina Henry.
When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.
So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.
“It’s Mrs. Schneider. She won’t stop screaming. There’s so much blood.”
“Find them. All the girls, girls like us. Find them.”
“We aren’t the only ones.”
Set in the mid 80’s in a small and seemingly perfect town, Smiths Hollow is far from a dreamland. Each year a girl is taken, killed and found dismembered in the woods. What would surely cause most residents and towns to rise up in anger and cry in fury, the people of Smiths Hollow do none of that. Somehow, these yearly horrors slip from their minds. Friends are forgotten. Sisters are no longer thought about. Daughters begin to be erased from existence. But Lauren can’t seem to forget. Not after her father was found with his heart ripped out one year prior, and the police refuse to do anything about it. But when the bodies of two girls are found in an elderly woman’s backyard, Lauren takes it upon herself to find the truth. Because something is happening in Smiths Hollow…and something is happening to Lauren.
“Meet me by the old ghost tree.”
The Ghost Tree is Sleepy Hollow on murdery crack, and there is truly nothing better.
As we all know, Christina Henry is the Queen of bloodbaths.
She is the High Priestess of YA Horror, the Goddess of fairy-tales gone dark, and the Villainous Hero of atmospheric tales of all that is sinister and poetic.
This book was everything my dark little soul has been craving! I felt transported to a town that feels jarring, creepy, strange and off, while also seeming vibrant, homey and alluring. It being set in the 80’s gave it the perfect vintage creepiness that one would find in Halloween, and an innocent yet rough depiction of teenage femininity that mirrors Carrie. It leaves you sweating in shivers and wanting to enter the trees. You can almost smell the iron scent coating dried leaves, or hear the warnings on the wind.
It is truly the perfect Autumn horror.
“There’s something wrong here.”
“There is something wrong with this town…”
Smiths Hollow is almost like any other town. A small town where everyone knows everyone, you shop at the small grocery store in town, gossip with neighbors, and seemingly forget that girls are dying left and right.
You know, normal.
The story is told in many different perspectives of various residents of the town, each giving a different form of insight into what is really happening in the shadows. At first, I was so confused with the memory aspect of this story. Because in some ways the characters seemed to realize girls were being killed and could remember, but in every other situation…it was as if they didn’t. This type of mystery lends a hand to the truly bizarre and disorienting tale that this book is, and allows the reader to feel completely in the dark for most of the book. Just like the MC, Lauren.
“I don’t want to be alone. Please don’t leave me alone.”
Though this is told through many different eyes, Lauren is the main focus and who we find to be the most reliable narrator. Though only fourteen, she is a fairly mature and levelheaded young girl who seems to really know who she is (I give credit to the era she grows up in). Our story starts with Lauren meeting her best friend Miranda by the Ghost Tree in the woods, a place that scares most residents of Smiths Hollow, but also a place the girls have gone to since they were small. Lauren feels comfort and peace when she is in the woods, which is surprising given all that’s…happened…
Lauren is a little more on the quiet side and very methodical. She harbors deep pain from the gruesome and brutal death that her father suffered a year before, and deep confusion as to why so many have brushed it aside. Not only have the police done nothing to investigate his murder, but even her mother seems to harbor ill-will and resentment towards her late husband.
“You’d think they’d remember a man who’d been found with his heart torn out more clearly.”
But as the story goes on, and the murders of two new girls seem to again be brushed under the rug, Lauren can’t help but yearn for answers. Especially when a violent vision of the girls being killed attacks her one day in the woods.
“There was something inside her brain trying to get out, something with a chainsaw howling, but the howling wasn’t pain – it was the kind of howling that meant laughter, and the laughter wasn’t the kind that invited others to laugh but the kind that you ran from while your heart slammed against your ribs and your legs moved of their own volition.”
But let’s really talk about the weirdness of Smiths Hollow.
Lauren’s best friend Miranda is less of a best friend and more of a bully who puts Lauren down, all while attempting to seduce boys so she can lose her virginity. An elderly woman, Mrs. Schneider, has a very unwarranted hatred for her Hispanic neighbors and thinks that they’re killing people. The mayor of the town has an oddly obsessive fascination with bringing a fair to the town, the police force seems fine with not investigating any crimes, an eighteen-year-old boy stares at Lauren a lot, and her four-year-old brother acts like more of an adult than I do.
And better yet, he seems to see and hear things no one else can.
“Everyone knows, but they don’t know they do.”
From the very beginning, the story grabs you into a feverish hunger to know what is causing these people to act so flippant and why girls are getting killed. It is a slow-burn mystery that I binged in a day, and one I was just wishing I could transport into. But the best aspect of all, is that I had zero idea where this story would lead. Even at the 75% mark, I had no idea who or what was behind these killings. Sure, we get a little morsel here and a crumb there to keep us feeling satisfied, but just enough to make us crave more.
My favorite part, by far, is when the “legend” is told. I LOVE that the story went into a fantastical direction, even if I wasn’t expecting it or seeing it as a plausible trope that could work with this plot. But alas, it made it SO much better! I love a legend and a dark fairy-tale even more, so naturally I was drooling at the mouth over the secrets and history that it revealed. And though I can’t give anything away without ruining the story, I will say that this trope being woven into the story was done flawlessly and didn’t take away from any of the eerie horror.
“And all the while, the hill and the house upon it watched.
And all the while, the tree waited for the signal from the hill.”
By far my favorite book that I have read in a while. It is PERFECT for those Autumn TBRs that so many of you readers have been crafting since January, and one that I HIGHLY recommend. For those who are afraid of Horror, don’t worry. It really isn’t as scary as my gifs and mood boards would lead you to believe. Christina Henry has a knack for setting a scene of foggy depths and bloody secrets, and that is exactly what The Ghost Tree is.
“And in time we’ll forget.”