Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book review: After the Woods by Kim Savage

An unsettling tale that details what happens in the aftermath of a kidnapping gone wrong.

Book summary: Goodreads
First published in 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan
Source: Review copy received from the publisher via Netgalley

Purchase a copy from Raru.co.za

Julia knows she beat the odds. She escaped the kidnapper who hunted her in the woods for two terrifying nights that she can't fully remember. Now it's one year later, and a dead girl turns up in those same woods.

The terrible memories resurface, leaving Julia in a stupor at awkward moments-in front of gorgeous Kellan MacDougall, for example.

At least Julia's not alone. Her best friend, Liv, was in the woods, too. When Julia got caught, Liv ran away.

Is Liv's guilt over leaving Julia the reason she's starving herself? Is hooking up with Shane Cuthbert, an addict with an explosive temper, Liv's way of punishing herself for not having Julia's back?

As the devastating truth about Liv becomes clear, Julia realizes the one person she thinks she knows best-Liv-is the person she knows least of all. And that after the woods was just the beginning.

Review:

"Statistically speaking, girls like me don't come back when guys like Donald Jessup take us."

With a tagline like that, how could one not want to read Kim Savage’s After the Woods?

Given what we know about abductions, the likelihood of someone surviving a kidnapping is more likely a mere possibility than it is a probability. There are too many stories in the news, and too many statistics for us to ever believe otherwise.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories that feature protagonists coping with the aftermath of a traumatic event – survivalist stories, if you will – since these are the stories that shouldn’t exist. 

These are the stories that defy the odds and the ones that prove that the will to survive is a force to be reckoned with.

When I first started reading After the Woods, my first thought was that I was reading a book about dealing with the aftermath of trauma and the impact it has on the friendship between Julia and Liv, the two girls who found themselves in the woods one fateful day.

The truth is, while the book certainly does revolve around a lot of that, it’s so much more than a story about a lucky break and even luckier escape. In fact, all my presuppositions about this novel went out of the window as this book went in a direction I wasn’t quite expecting.

There were layers and depths to this novel that has certainly me thinking very hard about the way we treat crimes and victims of crimes: from media scrutiny, reporting and sensationalism, to critique about police investigation and the finely-tuned nuances in the manner that speaks volumes about how victims are treated; this novel proved to be immeasurably compelling and thought-provoking.

After the Woods is a beautifully written book with interesting characters whose motives and actions you won’t always understand. Kim Savage has a marvellous way of toying with the readers when it comes to exploring the friendship dynamic between Julia and Liv.

Here you have two very different characters who are each battling their own demons, one dealing with the amnesia her trauma has resulted in, while the other dealing with her own set of conflicted emotions following the sacrifice her friend made for her.

The friendship between these two girls is one I certainly wouldn’t call symbiotic and it quickly becomes clear that the psychological damage inflicted on both of them, albeit in different ways, has left more of an impact than ever.

There is also an element of parental abuse that plays a huge part in the ever-widening breach that has followed the kidnapping and one which finally allowed me to understand the machinations behind the actions of the friend who got away.

It was all rather very twisted, if you ask me.

My one criticism of the novel would be the romance, I guess? To me it felt like a plot device created to act as a filler and came rather out of left field. It’s not really a big deal, but what I’m trying to say is that this novel could have worked just as well without it.

Either way, despite that niggle, Kim Savage has written a psychological YA novel filled with mystery, suspense and enough bizarreness that will make you question everyone and doubt your own conclusions.

A solid debut from an author whose work I’ll definitely be reading more of.

Give it a read. You’ll be thinking about it long after you’ve turned the last page.

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