Kate’s Review: “The House in the Pines”

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Book: “The House in the Pines” by Ana Reyes

Publishing Info: Dutton, January 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, mysteriously dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they’d been spending time with all summer.

Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can’t account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer–the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.

At her mother’s house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank’s cabin.

Utterly unique and captivating, The House in the Pines keeps you guessing about whether we can ever fully confront the past and return home.

Review: Thank you to Dutton and ALAAC22 for providing me with an ARC of this novel!

It’s nuts to think that The ALA Annual Conference in 2022 was already almost half a year ago. I feel like I did a pretty okay job going through my ARCs and taking them on, and given that a few I grabbed were for early 2023, I did have some stragglers by the end of the year. One of those was “The House in the Pines” by Ana Reyes, which had been touted as an eerie thriller with a creepy as heck cover to boot. As someone who likes creepy cabins (“Evil Dead” really set the bar, be it the movies OR the musical), the cover alone commanded my attention. By the time I was diving in, long after the conference had ended, it didn’t take long to become invested even beyond the core concept and solid cover.

What I liked most about this book is that I wasn’t sure if it was going to ultimately be a horror story with potentially supernatural elements, or a very off kilter thriller that does, in fact, have a possibly plausible explanation. Where it ultimately ended up, I’m not quite sure, but the ride was pretty well worth it. I liked how we jumped through time in the narrative, seeing our protagonist Maya in the present day as she grapple with her past relationship with a man who may have killed her best friend. How, she isn’t sure, as Aubrey just dropped dead, and Frank was right there and seemingly did nothing. But Maya can’t shake the feeling that he did it, especially when she stumbles upon a viral video of ANOTHER woman just dropping dead, with Frank being present again. In the present we see her obsess and try to figure out how he could have pulled this seemingly impossible murder off. But then we jump to the past, and see how Frank manipulated, groomed, and influenced Maya at seventeen years old. It’s sometimes a bit jarring to see the two time lines so close to each other, especially since the jumps aren’t as predictable, but I liked the contrast and how it brings the story together.

As for the strange elements that I was referring to up-post, as to whether this is a horror story or a thriller, Reyes really knows how to make her pages and moments disorienting. I really couldn’t tell if I could at all trust what I was reading, and had to skip back a couple times here and there to re-read to make sure I was getting everything I was theoretically supposed to be getting. This is all, mostly, a positive and deliberate thing, as it is very much in control and doesn’t feel due to sloppy or haphazard writing. And ultimately, this book is less about the weird and disorienting things, and more about the fallout and trauma that Maya has experienced, and how that in and if itself can lead to disorientation. I think that my only qualm with all of this is that, because it’s more about that and less about Frank and true answers, the ending feels a bit drawn out and unresolved. I know that a lack of resolution definitely has its place in stories with themes such as these. But I think that for me the narrative would have benefited a bit from some more concrete answers and resolutions.

Overall, “The House in the Pines” is strange and twisty, with bleak but interesting themes. I will be very curious to see the reactions this one receives as more people read it, and I’m very curious to check out what Ana Reyes brings forth next.

Rating 7: Weird and upsetting with some intriguing twists, “The House in the Pines” is a solid way to start your thriller reading in 2023.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The House in the Pines” is included on the Goodreads list “Latinx Mysteries and Thrillers”.

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