Published by HarperTeen on October 21, 2014
Genres: gothic, paranormal
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp — the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.
Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance — and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.
This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.
Well, this book was one deliciously creepy treat. It’s the sort of book that wholly transports from the first pages and ensnares the reader into its darkly magical web. At its best, the gothic aspects of this story reminded me of Strange Sweet Song and its dark fairy tale feel brought to mind Cuckoo Song. Those are two of my favorite books of 2014 and I do not make the comparison lightly!
Sterling Saucier (what a tremendous name, btw) is dealing with loss on several fronts. Immediately, her brother has disappeared into the town’s mystical swamp. Years earlier her alcoholic and abusive father left their family. Of course, his departure was not without significant scarring itself for both Sterling and Phineas. And the repercussions of that departure echo throughout the story.
I was quite struck, actually, by how this was both a paranormal novel and a contemporary “issue” book. There are many paranormal enemies lurking about in that swamp, but just as many human ones as well. And the book is equally about dealing with the demons within as it is the demons without. I have to say I want to make a content note as Sterling is dealing with an eating disorder and occasionally flashes back to memories of her abusive father. In the hands of a less skilled author it might seem like the book has taken too much on, but I promise you all is balanced with a deft hand and has actual importance to the plot.
I loved Sterling. She most certainly is not bad ass in that warrior “take no prisoners, I will gut you way.” Rather it’s the much more realistic and quiet way of a normal teenage girl who can accept the love for her brother and her friends and draw her strength from that. Sterling’s strength is very much an emotional one and her growth and development throughout the book is a delight to behold. There is no damsel in distress here. The only person who is going to save Sterling (and her brother) is Sterling.
And now we come to the romance. I liked the romance! I truly did. This book wouldn’t’ve had a chance of making it to 4 stars without a worthy ship. Heath is a strong, silent type which is my favorite. Where I might get a bit nitpicky is that we don’t get to see as much of the “getting to know” each other stage as Sterling and Heath already have a history. But he’s a good guy and there are some moments of genuine swoon. He even asks if he can give that kiss! And a rather, er, juicy scene set in a sun soaked peach orchard. 😉 As always for me I’ll grumble a bit when romance takes the backseat in a story but I know most people don’t want it overshadowing the plot and I’m happy to inform that is not the case here!
I have to admit I was wavering between a 3.5 to 4 on this book. What finally drove me to give this 4 stars was the strength and beauty of the writing. Parker is tremendously skilled at creating the tense small town atmosphere that is brimming with secrets. I almost flat out refuse to believe this is a debut novel. I will eagerly line up to read anything she writes in the future.
This book was like the swamp between its pages, a living thing. And its roots crawled into my soul by moonlight and refused to let go.