A story’s first line is often a good indicator of its merit, and Kieran Scott joins the ranks of other great story tellers with her opening line in What Waits in the Woods: “Callie Valasquez wasn’t ready to die” (3).
When smart, creative, loyal Callie latches onto a life raft the second week at her new school, she has no idea that the decision may lead to her death, but her choice to befriend coarse, snarky, athletic Lissa and dainty, meek, sweet Penelope leads to a camping trip in the woods and the horror-filled adventure that follows.
More secure navigating the concrete and pavement of Chicago than the woods of Mission Hills, New York, sixteen-year-old Callie feels as if she has stepped through a wormhole into another dimension. Trying to impress her mathlete, science genius boyfriend who holds the school record in the shot put, Callie endures the campfire ghost stories of the first night. But when she can’t shake the sensation that they’re being followed, she begins to envision the Gollum-like psycho called the Skinner. Although some of the woodland settings are magical: a pond surrounded by bright yellow wildflowers and half covered by floating lily pads and a sky so flooded with stars that it gives Callie the impression that she and Jeremy Higgins are “lying under a dome sprinkled with glowing sand” (28), others—like distant, insidious laughter—are more menacing than comforting.
When the group loses their compass and takes a wrong turn, they are officially lost until Ted Miller materializes seemingly out of thin air, offering to lead them to safety. Despite knowing little about him and suspecting that he might be dangerous, the teens are fifteen miles from civilization with bleak supplies, so they agree to follow Ted to his cabin. As they trek through the woods, the group encounters creepy dolls, bloodied gauze, and knives protruding from trees, as well as timber rattlers, spiders, mudslides, and other treacherous terrain. With the initial mention of a camping trip, Callie had imagined hanging out with her two best friends “bonding, sharing chocolate bars and jokes and secrets and stories. She hadn’t expected the fighting and hunger, the fear and uncertainty” (189). Friction not only creates blisters but frayed nerves, as fear and anger crowd in and take control of the teens. Callie quickly learns that survival skills change, depending on the setting; here survival involves sacrifice, pain, and discomfort. Callie wonders if she’ll live long enough to put her lessons in inner strength and her newfound understanding about dangerous secrets to work.
The horror elements, plot twists, and surprise ending make this book a page turner as much as a deterrent to camping/hiking in the woods! Come to think of it, the other two books that opened similarly: “The murdered him” (The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier) and “I’m the girl nobody knows until she commits suicide” (Party by Tom Leveen) imparted their own version of horror!
- Posted by Donna