book review

Book Review: ‘What the Woods Keep’ by Katya De Becerra

What the Woods Keep. Katya De Becerra. Imprint Macmillan. September 2018.

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.

I picked up What The Woods Keep because of its super intriguing premise. On her 18th birthday, our main character Hayden inherits the old Manor House, where she grew up, from her mother, who disappeared – presumed dead – when Hayden was 8 years old. Her mother has stipulated some conditions in her will, and to say they are a bit weird would be an understatement! Hayden must track down a mysterious key, find some ‘treasure’, perform a very creepy supernatural ritual in the woods, and ‘finish what her mother started.’ She must do all of this whilst ‘trusting nobody’, ‘especially the ravens.’

We follow Hayden as she goes back to her childhood hometown of Promise, Colorado, to check out the old house, taking her best friend Del along for the ride, and begins to unravel the mysterious clues her mother has left behind for her. From the very beginning, I loved the strange and creepy vibes this book gave me. It was never outright scary, but it was certainly eerie, and the descriptions of the house and the woods and the weird things which start to happen in the town from the moment they arrive, were beautifully atmospheric. I also loved the Edgar Allan Poe vibes it gave me, with all the spooky ravens skulking about!

Hayden was a mysterious character and I liked that we got glimpses of her strange past in the form of notes from her therapist. I wasn’t sure who I could trust in this book, but surprisingly, despite what we learn about Hayden, and the uneasiness she seems to inspire in other people, she was the one character I never doubted. Reading about some of the incidents from her past definitely left me unsettled though! 

Hayden has a fascination with science, inherited from her physicist father, and one of the things I loved about this book was that the beginning of each chapter related some kind of unusual and intriguing scientific phenomenon to what was happening in the story. Hayden has always been a logical person, observing things in a scientific manner and finding the rational solution. As the story progresses it becomes harder and harder for her to explain away what is happening with science and I loved the way the book explored the struggle in Hayden’s mind between the scientific and the supernatural.

The other aspect of this book I loved was the inclusion of conspiracy theories. Hayden’s father, who I mentioned is a physicist, is actually a disgraced scientist who lost his tenure as a professor and respect as an academic when he became obsessed with myth and folklore and his research took a supernatural turn. Hayden, like everyone else, has always viewed her father as a conspiracy theorist, and she has a strained relationship with him, so it was really interesting to see how that was explored and where it ended up going.

Despite really enjoying the story, I did think that the pacing could have been better. The beginning was a slow build and it took a long time for Hayden and Del to actually get to the house, but I did enjoy their friendship (and Del was a fun character with lots of personality!), so I didn’t mind too much. What bothered me more was the ending, which felt very abrupt! There was a resolution and answers, and it was all exciting and dramatic, but it ended very suddenly without any reflection or reaction from the characters. I would have liked an epilogue or something to see how the characters were affected by everything that went down! I felt a bit robbed.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and the author left room for a sequel, which I’d definitely read. It’s hard to define what genre this book falls into – it’s a mix of paranormal, gothic horror, fantasy and science fiction, so for me it had a little bit of everything I love in a book and was right up my street. If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to know what you thought of it!


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