The premise of this novel is an intriguing one and it had me hooked when I read the blurb.
The Creswell family live in the woods and the main character Castley is one of the daughters and she wants to be normal. She wants to fit in with the girls at school and not be steered by the radically religious views that her father has. Castley’s father is abusive and her mother is disabled and they don’t have enough food or resources to continue living. And slowly, secrets emerge. Lots of family secrets that were once hidden are uncovered throughout the book.
Eliza Wass presents a very small, confined setting. The Creswells are all bunkered together in a small house out in the forest, and the only other place the children are regularly allowed to venture to is their school. This setting is remote and it suffocates the characters, and it works well to suffocate the reader as well. The reader can automatically sense dread – they can sense that there will be some shocking and worrying events to come in the book.
The family dynamic is wonderful. Castley begins to doubt some of her siblings and she questions their decisions, but all is not as it seems and her relationship with her family begins to shift. She is forced to confront her beliefs and everything that her father has taught her and she must figure out what she wants. Alliances change throughout the book. Her opinions of her brothers change and her idea of what’s important also alters. These shifts in the Cresswell family dynamic become catalysts for resulting events, propelling the story forward and quickening the pace.
There were a couple things that I believe could’ve been more effective if done differently.
1) I don’t think the children should’ve been going to school. Their father is extremely dangerous and doesn’t trust anyone in the town, but he lets his children go to school? It would’ve provided a different element if the children were banned from school and only had each other and their father to rely on. It would’ve further refined the setting of the story and allowed for a creepier element to the novel. Plus, Castley really wants to be like every other normal child in town. If she were forbidden from venturing into town or going to school but perhaps snuck out and did it anyway, her voyeuristic, outsider viewpoint of the other kids would have highlighted this even further.
2) Castley’s siblings seem to change their minds often. In some chapters they’re following in their father’s footsteps and mirroring his radical views with unrelenting obedience. In other chapters, they’ve flipped and are being rebellious. This may be a chosen stylistic technique of Eliza’s to highlight that the children aren’t sure of what they believe anymore and that they’re starting to have doubt. However, if this is the case, I think the altering opinions and the different behaviours could have been written a little bit more seamlessly and delicately to make it a little more realistic.
3) I think the characters could’ve had a bit more depth. Sometimes, even Castley felt one dimensional to me. I found myself struggling to sympathise for her or her siblings and I read the story with interest but not worry or concern. I definitely think there was more room in the story for Eliza to develop the characters so that the readers could become more engrossed in the book.
Overall, I did really enjoy this novel. The writing is simplistic and the dialogue isn’t overdone and it’s a quick read. The characters are intriguing enough that you want to keep reading and the plot moves quickly enough that you aren’t bored.
Thank you to Hachette for sending me a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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