Epeolatry Book Review: We Haunt These Woods by Holley Cornetto
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Title: We Haunt These Woods
Author: Holley Cornetto
Publisher: Bleeding Edge Books
Genre: Horror/Coming of Age
Release Date: 19th July, 2022
Synopsis: Nate Holbrook had put his past behind him. When his friends went missing all those years ago at Lake Swart, it had been nothing more than a tragic mystery. No matter what stories they’d told each other about the “Forest Man,” there was no primeval menace lingering in that cave they found deep in the woods.
But when Nate meets up with Jennifer, a fellow Lake Swart survivor and his first love, everything changes. Finding her scarred and broken by the weight of the past, he proposes a daring remedy for their shared trauma—to return to their old summer haunt and prove the thing in the cave nothing more than a delusion and a myth.
But what if Nate is wrong?
What if the Forest Man is still waiting, after all this time, for a new friend to sing his song… to take his hand and disappear?
Childhood occupies a special station in the realm of horror fiction. Is this because of its innate connection to a loss of innocence? The harried confusion surrounding a formation of identity? Regardless, childhood—and adolescence—have been plentiful fodder for terror mainstays, including King’s It, Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl, and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.
We Haunt These Woods joins this arsenal of bildungsroman as author Cornetto juxtaposes a group of 12-year-olds with their adult selves, sweeping forward and back in time in order to methodically build a tale that is not only suspenseful but creepy as hell.
We Haunt These Woods mixes folktale horror with paranormal, and the combination melds seamlessly. One of the most frightening scenes begins, “Another sound came from behind us. It wasn’t the howling of the wind or echoes from the storm. It was laughter, but not the kind born of joy or happiness. It was sharp and cruel, and as it echoed in the chamber around us, I recognized the sound of the voice.” From there, Cornetto expands into a terrifying tableau that will make a reader curse him/herself if reading the book alone at night.
Although the characters are established as Millennials, their motivations and worries are ubiquitous to all generations. First crushes and growing pains are portrayed realistically, and each member of the group—Nate, Jennifer, Lee, Brandon, Sarah, and Marcus—carries his or her own baggage. Lee “was older than the rest of the lake kids, making him the leader by default. He wore a red bandana and a Van Halen t-shirt with a lollipop tucked between his ear like a cigarette and a Walkman clipped on his belt buckle.” Cornetto establishes her ensemble quickly, fleshing out their individual quirks and personalities so that the reader can concentrate on the action.
In most contemporary YA fiction, adults are often suspiciously absent. We Haunt may not be YA fiction, but it portrays adolescents both sympathetically and realistically. At the same time, Cornetto slyly inserts conversations with police officers and the parents of the main characters around her young heroes, and the adult presence makes the growing paranoia all the more visceral. The question of whether the monstrosity in the woods is real or imagined—a mass hysteria experienced only by the tweens—plagues the protagonist, and the insistence by all adult figures that the Forest Man is a fanciful fabrication not only makes Nate and his friends question their sanity but draws the reader deeper into the mystery.
We Haunt These Woods could be filed under older young adult literature, but like the offerings from King, Oyeyemi, and Bradbury, it works better as adult horror fiction. The pacing is so razor-sharp, readers will have difficulty putting the book down before finishing. In the novella, the fears the children harbored in adolescence cling tightly well into adulthood, showing that we’re never too old for a good scare. Just as Nate’s father reassures him that as we age, “We stop believing in the good things, but we hold on to the bad things…I think it’s because some of us outgrow magic and wonder, but we never outgrow fear. Not entirely.”
Available from Amazon.
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Rebecca Rowland is a New England-born author of dark fiction and editor of horror anthologies. Projects releasing this summer include the anthology in tribute to the late, great Anne Rice Dancing in the Shadows, the transgressive weird horror Shagging the Boss, and the speculative fiction hybrid Optic Nerve. For a preview, visit RowlandBooks.com; for a peek at what shiny object she’s fixating on this week, follow her on Instagram @Rebecca_Rowland_books.