Title: The Ghost Tree
Author: Christina Henry
Release Date: 8/9/20
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 50
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free eARC copy from Titan Books, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in her hometown, 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 realises that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the centre. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.
Note: This book has content that some people may find unsettling please refer to the Book Trigger Warnings page for this title, to assess if you may find any of these topics unsettling.
It is really hard to describe the brilliance of this book. On the surface, it is a 1980’s set small town gore/horror, very Stephen King or Stranger things in its feel. The 1980’s setting just gives it that great movie quality to it. You can picture the slightly run down 1950’s boom town: The gleaming tile of the deli now faded, the Arcade floor has become beyond sticky and the cul de sac of houses now needing a little tlc. It makes it really atmospheric. Henry’s writing style lends to this atmosphere really immersing you in this time, but also giving you that unsettled feeling, that just makes the whole book creepy.
What was a nice surprise for me was I wasn’t expecting all the witchy vibes. I am not much one for gore and horror. Christina Henry is about the only gore/horror writer I read. Yet, I do love a good witch in the woods, autumnal feeling book and this has both! Which I wasn’t expecting from the blurb. I really loved the supernatural elements to this book, I thought they played really well with the rest of the plot, it added a little lightness and fun into the book. I will actually say the same with the horror and gore. For me they were a little more on the 1980’s B movie horror side of the scale but I liked that.
For me the best bit about this book was the characters! This is told from multiple perspectives (I lost count) and it really works! Each perspective is very slice of life and some of the minds we explore are utterly detestable. None of them are innocent or even completely good people. They all have big flaws, personal insecurities, biases and hang ups that all come to the surface as we get there internal monologues. We get a little bit of every type of character in this small town, from a vile racist, determine to pin all blame on her neighbours, to a single mother struggling with her feelings of resentment towards her teenage daughter, the mayor more obsessed with who his wife is sleeping with than the dark secrets of his town, the new cop on the block and teenage girls figuring out who they are and if there friendship can survive it.
There is a lot about the teenage girl experience in this book which came across as very natural. I recognised those feelings of growing apart, reassessing friendships and if you have the same paths in life anymore, discovering how you fit into your own life discovering boys, pushing for more freedom and responsibility and hitting the limits of your parents. The problems of being an adult and not knowing how to handle situations, wanting to tell the bigot across the road to "get to" but knowing it would make things worse. All this humanity just bubbles under the surface in the narrative and it just for me makes it so interesting to read. .
The mutli-perspective nature really does keep the pace moving, I didn’t feel like I was reading a 500 page novel, it just flowed. I wanted to know what happened next, how those characters connected ideas, how they resolved there mundane problems as well as the spooky ones, etc etc. and that to me marks a really good book.