Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Girl from the Well

I have come to the conclusion that narrative style affects some readers more than it does others.  I mean, that's pretty obvious, but the virulence of some people's reaction to the narrative style of this book, The Girl from the Well, or We Were Liars, which also had a really distinctive voice, demonstrates that it's really a matter of taste, not necessarily of ability.

Granted, I read this in e-ARC format, so any final formatting choices in the print version didn't appear in my version (apologies for the Very Late Review).  The only odd thing was the random appearance of the author's name in the middle of a sentence, which threw me off when I was expecting to read another name.  You'd have something like, "Tark walked over to an empty table RIN CHUPECO."  Silly ARC.

Anyway, I do like the quasi stream of consciousness style that Chupeco employs in GFTW.  If I were a ghost who's been drifting around the mortal plane for a few centuries, I wouldn't let anything like commas stand in the way.

On one level, this is a ghost story.  Mostly because this is a story in which ghosts are legitimate entities who can interact with live humans.  However, I don't think that the Chiller channel will be adapting this as a screenplay any time soon.  It's also a story about finding purpose, escaping your past by living through your nightmares, and revenge.

Here's the deal: if you died in an awful way and you were not at peace, you might linger around to exact vengeance on your killer.  These yuuri (ghosts) stay until their task is complete, and then they find fulfillment in a sort of heaven-like place.  Okiku has been a yuuri for centuries: she's the girl in a classic Japanese story who is framed for breaking one of her master's ten treasured plates (I guess he had a thing for plates!) and was then killed and thrown down a well.  She has a fear of the number nine as a result--nine plates=death.  She was never able to revenge herself on the person who killed her, so instead she's roamed the world, locating child-killers and killing them.  Afterward, their corpses resemble those of the drowned (as Okiku died).  Getting rid of murderers=a good idea.  Vigilante justice=not so moral.  But that might change.

Okiku notices a boy one day--no, not like that.  Thankfully, there is pretty much zero romance in this book, which made me enjoy it even more.  This boy, Tarquin or Tark, has a dark shadow following him around, and Okiku knows he's in danger.  She's intrigued (in her detached Daria-esque way) by Tark's bizarre tattoos: five of them.  And they move.

The story goes from avenging serial killers to a mental hospital to a remote shrine in Japan.  Sometimes Okiku's voice recedes, and she simply narrates the action.  But when something disturbing occurs--like the appearance of a child predator, for example--she begins her counting; it relaxes her.  I didn't mind these intrusions (265) into the narrative (1) about these kids (2) fighting forces far beyond their comprehension.  I know people for whom counting is a solace and I try to understand as much as I can.  For me, the counting habit is what helped make Okiku interesting.

Because yes, for all that other reviewers claim that the characters are flat, I say nay!  Okiku is neither a heroine nor an anti-heroine, but she is both and yet none as the mood takes her.  Tark's mother, Yuko, is absolutely fascinating, and his cousin is likable without being perfect.

The horror scenes themselves are also exceedingly well-done.  Never over-the-top, but still super creepy.  Chupeco never lets the pace flag, so this is a fast-moving thrill ride with some serious atmosphere.

One quibble I have is that the ending battle scene/showdown was a bit confusing, especially because it relied so heavily on elements of Japanese myth and superstition that I, as an American, am not familiar with.  Why did they salt the mirrors?  Why could Okiku pass through?  A little more background on the rules of being a Japanese ghost would have been helpful!

Overall, this is a solid teen horror novel.  I hope to read much more from Rin Chupeco!

I received an ARC of this novel from Edelweiss.

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