Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Book Review - Direwood by Catherine Yu




In Catherine Yu’s debut novel Direwood, the novel takes place in a small idyllic town in the 1990s. Aja is a sixteen year old Asian girl who feels different and out of place in her community. She is unable to connect with others as easily as her older sister, Fiona. Everything changes when her beloved sister goes missing the day after her birthday party. Days before Fiona disappears, Aja has a foreboding feeling that something bad is going to happen. She sees signs of malice in everyday occurrences such as trees being infected by caterpillars and the rain being the color of blood.

Aja is desperate to find her sister. She receives the answer to her prayers when a vampire, Padraic, shows up to her window one night. Padraic is a chance for Aja to find her sister along with providing her with the opportunity for freedom from her overbearing community. Aja is enthralled with Padraic as he tells her that she is pretty and special, things Aja yearns to hear.  

Aja decides to go with Padraic to his nest deep in the forest with the condition that she can leave whenever she wants. However, Aja isn’t planning to leave without her idolized sister. As Aja spends time with Padraic in the dilapidated church that is surrounded by a deadly fog and bloodsucking butterflies, Aja realizes that Padraic has secrets that he is keeping from her as well. Will Aja be able to find her sister and escape Padraic’s hold on her?

The book had tons of eerie gothic themes that were spellbinding and alluring to read. The author used lush descriptions to describe the scenery and Aja’s inner turmoil. Aja was stuck between being enraptured by Padraic and having a sense of being wanted and belonging with her need to find her sister. It was interesting reading about how Aja was struggling with choosing the best course of action.

Aja was an interesting character. I commiserate with her need of being the odd duck but, at times, her character felt one-dimensional. She came across as selfish, in that she stated that she wanted to rescue her sister, but made little progress in her actual goal. I felt that she was hard on her friend when they were trying to help her. Aja seemed self-absorbed and stuck in her world failing to realize the danger that was around her. When the time came for action, she seemed like a deer caught in headlights. I also didn’t like that she consistently claimed others were ruining her chances to make her escape.

The author created a descriptive and atmospheric read but the novel lacked a strong story line. The days would progress and there would be little to no development in the story. At times, it felt boring and repetitive after reading various inner thoughts of how Aja thought Padraic was hot. I wished there was more world building and explanations.  Some concepts were introduced, such as the caterpillars and butterflies, but were never fully developed. If you like slow burn horror novels, then you might enjoy this book, otherwise I would skip it.


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