Book: “The Sawkill Girls” by Claire Legrand
Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, October 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.
He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.
Who are the Sawkill Girls?
Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.
Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.
Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.
Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.
Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.
Review: YA horror is a genre that I have an affection for, even if I find myself usually wanting more from the books that I read. I keep going back because as a teenager I LOVED the horror genre, and I want today’s teen horror fans to find books that will keep them up at night, or at the very least make them look over their shoulders every once in awhile. When I first heard about “The Sawkill Girls” by Claire Legrand, the premise was one that grabbed my attention. A monster on an island snatches up girls, and the only ones who can stop it are other girls who will not be made victims? Hell to the yes, I am THERE! It became all the more of a priority when I started reading more about it, and that it’s a book that has a lot of queer representation in it. We need more queer books, we need more horror for teens, and lord knows we REALLY need more queer horror for teens. So I went in with high expectations for “The Sawkill Girls”, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say high hopes. Hopes that in some ways were meant, but in other ways not.
Female centered horror that isn’t written through the male gaze is hard to come by, but “The Sawkill Girls” does a really good job of achieving just that. Our main characters Marion, Zoey, and Val are all complex and well rounded girls with flaws and strong points, but they never feel like they’re overwrought in their personalities. The most complex, and therefore my favorite, is Val, the privileged town darling whose family has had a deal with the town monster for generations. Val knows that she has to continue the family alliances to The Collector, as it is called, but also has started questioning her fate. It becomes all the more complicated when she falls for Marion, whose sister Charlotte was recently a victim of the monster Val harbors. Val is unlikable and cruel in some ways, but tortured and conflicted in others, and while we usually see this kind of trope in male characters it’s a breath of fresh air to see it in a female one. It’s all the more satisfying because I LOVE this trope and am nowhere near sick of it, though I do agree that women are rarely put into this mold. I’m thrilled that Legrand took it and let Val embody it.
I also really enjoyed the queer representation and themes within this book. Val and Marion have a tentative and complicated (for obvious reasons) romance, but the way that it builds and evolves felt realistic for the story at hand. There were no easy answers once certain things came to light, and while they both have a lot of baggage to overcome the reader does have reason to root for them. I see that as a testament to Legrand’s characterizations of both of them. Zoey, too, has a not as commonly seen romantic angle to her story, though it’s not as much at the forefront; she has deep affection for her ex boyfriend Grayson, but as an asexual she doesn’t think that they could pursue a romantic relationship that would be satisfying to both of them. It’s only recently that we’ve started to see asexuality represented in YA fiction, and I liked that it wasn’t centered as a huge conflict in this story that Zoey would have to ‘overcome’ or compromise on.
On top of that, the female centered friendships and support systems were very much the center of this book, with Marion and Zoey coming together to try and figure out what is happening to the missing girls on the island. As they come into the various strengths and powers that they have, the message is very clear: these girls won’t be victimized, and they are going to take their fates into their own hands. Sometimes this got to be a little overwrought (we get it, three teenage girls fighting a monster when a bunch of men couldn’t get it done is good), but overall I did enjoy the girl power tenacity that was being held up.
That said, this isn’t a horror novel. I say that because “The Sawkill Girls” never really elevated to actual scary territory. Nothing really got my heart racing, and I didn’t have any moments of unease or fear as I read through. I think that it would far more easily fit into the genre of ‘dark fantasy’. It was more ‘this is scary because I am telling you it is’, when I think that it didn’t really make the full leap to terror or horror. Because of this, I ended up feeling a bit disappointed with “The Sawkill Girls”, and I couldn’t fully enjoy it for what it was. I think that teenagers who like fantasy, dark fantasy especially, will absolutely find something to like about this book. But for those teens who are looking to be scared, they will probably walk away feeling dejected that, yet again, their genre didn’t quite get the story that they wanted.
There are lots of things to like about “The Sawkill Girls”. Big thumbs up for the feminist and queer themes, but the horror aspect didn’t work as well as I had been promised it would.
Rating 6: “The Sawkill Girls” has an intriguing premise and some great feminist and queer themes, but ultimately it didn’t quite wow me the way I hoped it would.
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