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January 10, 2014

Amanda Reviews THE KILLING WOODS

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Just a little over four years ago, Lucy Christopher published her critically acclaimed, powerful first novel, STOLEN. Now, the wait is over for Christopher’s highly anticipated young adult thriller, THE KILLING WOODS.

THE KILLING WOODS begins with 16-year-old Emily Shepherd peering out her bedroom window: She sees her dad walking from the dark woods that surround their house. From her view, it looks like he’s carrying an animal, which appears to be injured. As he enters the house, Emily finds out that it’s not an animal at all, but a girl. She’s still; her clothes are soaking wet from the rain, her skin is gray and blue around the lips, with red marks and bruises around her neck. Emily recognizes this girl from school: Her name is Ashlee Parker.

Emily’s dad is an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, and has flashbacks of when he killed a civilian on duty. When Emily asks him what happened, he shakes and trembles, repeatedly saying that Ashlee is “Gone.” Emily’s mom see’s what’s going on and says what Emily is dreading: that Ashlee Parker is dead.

With her father accused of the crime, Emily is not sure what to believe. Is her father really capable of murdering someone? Was it the flashbacks and PTSD that made him snap? Emily is determined to found out what happened in the woods that night, no matter what the cost.

The book shifts between Emily’s point of view and Damon Hilary’s, Ashlee’s boyfriend. Damon was with Ashlee the night she died. Damon doesn’t remember anything that happened that night: His memory is fogged from being too drunk and high. All he remembers is playing The Game with Ashlee that night. The Game is an intense version of hide-and-seek that he plays with his friends to let loose. It’s something that he started with his friends to toughen themselves up for the army, but The Game became something more…something more dangerous.

Like she did in STOLEN, Christopher deftly illustrates the emotional upheaval her characters are experiencing. Emily and Damon are both dealing with Ashlee’s death in their own way. Emily feels invisible in her own town; people are avoiding her because of what her father did (or didn’t do). Emily thinks that she may have a killer’s blood in her, too. Damon feels that Emily’s dad should be punished --- he wants revenge. He feels he should make Emily suffer for what her father has done. But, it’s not that easy. Emily feels a pull towards Damon. She senses there is more to what happened in the woods that night. He is the only one who can tell her what she needs to know. To prove that her father is innocent, Emily has to go deep into the dark and eerie woods (metaphor alert!).

The central setting and primary focus of THE KILLING WOODS is Darkwood: a huge, untamed forest with hundreds of oak trees, where deer and other creatures roam free. Emily and Damon have a connection in these woods: memories of playing games with their fathers. They feel like they are a part of these woods, like they’re somehow inside them. What goes on in the woods at night? How they view the woods changes the night that Ashlee dies. The woods mirror their past; they mirror murky secrets and the unknown darkness that people are capable of. The one thing that Emily and Damon are both sure of is that in order to find the truth about Ashlee’s death, they’ll have to look deep inside the woods.

THE KILLING WOODS is a gripping thriller about the search for truth in the darkest places. And although it’s important to find the truth, it’s important to be wary of the journey, because what we find may be something dark and disturbing within ourselves.