Good and a little creepy… just in time for Halloween

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue See by April Genevieve Tucholke.  The title sets the stage for something creepy, gothic and supernatural.  Think haunted houses, cemeteries and creepy attics.  Check, check and check.  I pictured a big old house, on the cliffs next to the ocean, and a struggle between good and evil.  Check – to most of that, even though some was in a manner other than expected.  And I guess that is part of what made this book enjoyable.  Don’t get me wrong, there is room for improvement – but I think some of the shades of grey that exist with these characters is part of the point.  I didn’t love the characters, but it was hard not to enjoy (most of) them.  I wasn’t scared stiff, but it was easy to think a number of things weren’t right and there was something not-quite-right going on also.  It wasn’t oozing with fright and mystery but there was enough to consider it a little creepy.  It was nice to see that the devil in the cemetery wasn’t Mr. Big Evil but more along the lines of Mr. Mischief (even if his actions did cause more harm ultimately, he didn’t intend to be evil).  I think had it been Mr. Big Evil it would have been too easy to hate River and see him as a bad-guy, without redeeming qualities.  I didn’t swoon at the dialogue, but it was intelligent enough to keep me interested.  I wasn’t entirely sure where things were going with the plot, but it wasn’t such a meandering mess either.  And most of the elements tied into the overall story arch so that they made much more sense in hindsight.  Were the parent’s conveniently absent?  Sure, but that is the case with so many YA novels I am not sure why authors even bother to explain the absence of the parental figures anymore.

After all that, there were a number of lovely little touches. For example in the beginning when Violet is narrating and explaining to us about how the Citizen got its name – from Citizen Kane the movie – she notes that the house was built in 1929 but the movie came out in 1941. She explained that the movie must have meant something to Freddy. Later that comes full circle after Violet discovers Freddy’s letters and Will tells Freddy at the end of one of them that Freddy she was his Rosebud. There are a handful of things like this for a reader to catch if they’re paying attention.  They were nice little nods to the careful reader that made this read more enjoyable. I will note that while I like twists and surprises Brody showing up really felt like it came out of nowhere. Rivers denial of some of the bad things going on (the women being burned as witches) really didn’t do enough to prepare for that twist. Even when looking back I’m hard-pressed to find solid clues to Brody’s existence (a mere reference to Texas isn’t enough for me to see Brody coming as the bad guy out to kill them all… but maybe that’s just me).  Most of the time even twists that feel like they come out of the blue but if the author has done things right I can look back and think “yep there’s the clue I just missed it”.  Here, I can’t seem to find many of them (if anyone wants to point them out to me, feel free!).

The descriptions of the town and the citizen are just enough to paint a fairly creepy picture of the town. While I think a little more description would have set the scene superbly, it was easy to see the paint peeling off the walls broken shutters and the state of disrepair that the house is in. It was also easy to see Violet’s love for the place as well as her love for Freddy, and how the family could continue to live there.  And, I love the idea of broken down old mansions.  A little more detail here would have added to the creepiness, I am sure.  But I had enough to picture in my mind a setting that made the Citizen a character in and of itself.

What I struggle with the most is that I can’t tell if Violet really had feelings for River. It was fairly evident that River likes Violet, and Neely reinforces that with his comments that there’s never been another girl that River’s even been remotely interested in.  But it would have been nice to have had a little bit more between River and Violet so that her feelings seem real and it would be easier to understand why the things River does are things she can so easily except.  All though I guess even as I write that, it occurs to me that the author might have been looking to create the question, the idea, that what is between River and Violet isn’t necessarily real.  And, the glow explains Violet’s susceptibility to just ignore the bad and take the warmth that the glow brings maybe even better. If River really is using the glow on her all the time and nothing is real, then that would explain how easily she dismisses his actions and his culpability for them.  It would also make River out to be even more of a enigma than he already seems.  We are left wondering, was he really good or not?  Can his actions be justified or excused?  Violet manages to do it, but did she do that of her own volition or was she “glowed into it”?

The other missing piece is the background between Freddy and River’s grandfather. The letters that we see just don’t explain enough. I would love to see more of this. I think that background would not only be helpful to understanding the glow, but would make the story so much more interesting if we knew more about the relationship that existed. It would be an excellent parallel to what is going on between River and Violet (I assume).

Overall I enjoyed the story well enough to pick up the second book right away. I’m looking forward to seeing if a love triangle develops between Violet and Neely and River, or if Violet and Neely really do just become friends. It seems like there is a little bit of a foundation for the development of something between Neely and Violet. On the other hand, despite all of River’s faults I think I want to see River and Vi together.

All things considered, this was a nice little book to satisfy the need for a little bit of creepiness, without leaving me afraid to turn out the lights or venture up into an attic.  A great balance for me, and what I am looking for.  I put this solidly in the “good” category, even if I can’t say the same for River.

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