World-weary New York teen Magda is on her last chance. After setting off a scandal in the elite New York City private school scene, she’s been shipped off to her grandparents’ sleepy Pacific Northwest town to spend a summer under the radar and regain her equilibrium. Over-medicated and uninspired, she spends her days in a fog, and finds her only solace in the beautiful hiking trails behind her grandparents’ cottage.
All that changes the afternoon that a mysterious stranger stumbles across her picnic blanket. Steadfast and strong, but curiously unsophisticated, Magda’s Wildboy, Bo, breaks through her ennui, and gives her hope that there might be a second chapter to her life story. But when a series of crimes start breaking out across the region, and a body is found in the woods near Bo’s encampment, it’s clear that Magda’s nightmare is just beginning. And she’s no longer sure who she can trust…
Expected publication date: 25th July 2019
*I was sent a free kindle edition of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
When I saw this book marketed for fans of You, Riverdale and We Were Liars, I knew I just had to read it. The synopsis sounded so interesting and unique plus it had that dark teen drama-esque vibe and I live for it! I tend to enjoy books which have a thriller / mystery plot but also delve into some deeper issues and in this regard, I feel like What She Found in the Woods definitely delivers.
The novel centres on Magda as she begins her summer at her grandparents idyllic home overlooking a beautiful forest. While her surroundings are certainly beautiful, the secrets Magda is hiding are weighing her down and causing her immense guilt. I feel like Josephine Angelini has written an interesting and controversial protagonist in Magda, as she has done some admittedly terrible things and due to this I never knew quite how I felt about her. I didn’t feel strongly about her but I was also not indifferent? I usually prefer to be more emotionally invested when I’m reading so this was a bit of a downer for me.
I enjoyed the thriller or mystery aspect of the novel as it’s two fold. There’s the first layer where readers are constantly teased about what secrets lie in Magdas past and what resulted in her breakdown, then a second layer which I enjoyed the most. Magdas history is slowly drawn out through flashbacks and excerpts which works well given her fragmented state of mind. The second mystery element in the book comes from a string of brutal murders of young women in the the woods. The local police and FBI have no idea of who the killer is but there’s a strange small town story floating about a man named Dr. Goodnight…
I also appreciate that Angelini has portrayed mental illness within the book and recognised the unjust stigma that comes alongs with it. Early on in the novel, we learn that Magda is on medication and was also admitted into hospital. Her parents are negligent and her grandparents while well meaning, don’t know how to deal with anything remotely ‘unpleasant’ so she is largely left to deal with her issues by herself. While I know this is definitely not every readers experience when it comes to mental health issues and many people are lucky to have a supportive network of family and friends, some may not. I appreciated that Angelini explores this a little and also explores the troubling ways which teens who suffer from mental illness are treated by their peers or even within facilities.
There were definitely some things I thought could have been improved, such as pacing at times and there was use of the gaslighting trope which I feel is so overdone now. I’m kind of tired of seeing it in every other thriller novel since The Girl on the Train you know? I also feel like some readers may find issue with the reason for Magda turning into a social pariah, there were a few moments which felt off to me and I wasn’t fully comfortable with as a person of colour reading them. While Magda and others were self aware of their positions of privilege, it still felt a bit weird to me. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but I wonder if other readers will also feel like this?
Overall, What She Found in the Woods was an interesting Teen thriller and addition to the Y/A genre as a whole and while it delivers on the thriller front for me, there were a few things I felt like could have been improved or reworked to make it even better. I feel like this will be a popular book on it’s release next month and I’m looking forward to seeing what other readers think!
★★★ – 3 Stars
Until next time,