Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker
Release date: October 21st, 2014
Length: 336 pages
Source: e-ARC via Edelweiss
Rating: A Southern Gothic fairytale with gorgeous writing and a creepy, atmospheric setting. LOVE.
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.
The thing about me and Harper books lately is that you never really know which book in the crop is going to be one of the magic books. For me, they tend to be the less-hyped, more experimental, refreshingly off-center ones. And Beware the Wild is magic, plain and simple.
We have an uncanny ability to keep secrets where anyone else can see them in Sticks, Louisiana.
Sticks, Louisiana, is just the sort of regular-but-not, strange-but-dangerous town a great Southern Gothic needs. Our heroine is Sterling, a frightned but stubborn girl who loves her older brother with all her heart and is so worried about him leaving her for college--after a lifetime of him protecting her from things like bullies and their abusive father--that she has developed an eating disorder. She has a pair of awesome best friends, a loving mama, and a stepfather she tolerates. Her town is backwoods and backwater, and it's biggest open secret is the swamp.
|YEP JUST LIKE THAT ONLY WITHOUT THE FRIENDLY ANIMATED FROG-PEOPLE|
See, the swamp in Sticks isn't any old swamp. It eats people. It's a million legends and stories all at once. It's the whisper at the back of hte minds of all the folks in Stick, and every child--every person--knows not to go into the swamp, because those that go in don't come out. Years ago, Sterling's own grandfather built a fence all away around it to keep the evil at bay. But no one really believes in it. But they do. But they don't. It's an open secret, and Sterling learns the hard way how true the swamp stories are when her own brother, after they have a horrible fight, runs inside it... and a sister crawls out.
It is SUCH A GOOD WTF MOMENT. Out comes this creepy, beautiful girl, and suddenly Sterling is the only one who can remember her brother, Phin. Everybody else remembers this intruder, Lenora May, as Sterling's sister. It's a sort of twist on the changeling myth, and it's amazing. As anyone would do, Sterling freaks out. She becomes determined to rescue her brother, and finds an ally in ex-love-interest Heath Durham. Because Heath once had a best friend no one but him remembers, and he's the only one in town who believes that Sterling isn't crazy.
You guys, the writing in this book is delicious. It's visual and atmospheric, drawing you right into the mystical bayou without ever crossing into cliche. I was wholly in this world. Sterling's voice is authentic without ever becoming a parody. The way she learns to become strong, and what her weaknesses are, and her fears... I loved it. Sterling has always depended on her brother. He was the only one who stood up to their father, and he's been the grounding force in her life for as long as she can remember. The idea of live without him terrifies her, but as she fights to save him, she learns to stand on her own two feet.
It's time for me to take care of me.
I loved Candy, Sterling's direct and very present best friend. I loved that there is some casual diversity thrown in here just for reasons, like Sterling's other best friend being into girls and her stepfather being black. And at the heart of it all is Sterling's relationship with her absent brother against her relationship with her present "sister"--who, though she may be a creepy life-stealing swamp thing, is not as hateable as Sterling would like her to be. After all, Sterling has false memories of their lives together as sisters right along her real memories of Phin. It's so wonderfully, magically confusing. Oh, and then there's the Wasting Shine, the aforementioned tricksy-false, drunkening magic of the swamp. Love it. Loooooove.
And then there's the actual swamp itself, which is... *shudders*.
I adore this book, but like any book, it has one or two ticks in the not-as-good column.The romance is perfectly nice, and I loved what it did for Sterling's character, and I liked Heath, but it's a bit less than swoon-worthy and never quite progressed to "ship" level. I also thought Sterling didn't react NEARLY enough to a second person she cared about being taken by the swamp, and so the fate of that character gave me zero emotions. It might have been the intent--that Wasting Shine is tricky business, y'all--but if so, I needed to know that. And while I loved being in Sterling's head as a citizen of Sticks, caught up in the creepy-beautiful-wonder-terror of the swamp, this book never truly affected my feels. But the writing was so good, I didn't really care, which is way out of character for me. But that's how good it was.
Seriously, check out Beware the Wild when it hits shelves later this month. And for God's sake, STAY OUT OF THE SWAMP.