Books & Literature

The Woods Are Always Watching, by Stephanie Perkins

YA THRILLER: Two girls go backpacking in the woods. And then things go very wrong.

A page-turning thriller fit for Halloween.
3.5

American author Stephanie Perkins made a mark in the literary horror community when she released her 2017 novel, There’s Someone Inside Your House. In October 2021, the slasher story was adapted to film and released on Netflix, much to the delight of Perkins’ growing sea of fans. Following her success, she penned the chillingly creepy The Woods Are Always Watching for a 2021 release.

As college looms in the near future, friends Josie and Neena have decided to take a camping trip in the woods together before Neena moves away. Bringing only the bare essentials with them, the girls want to prove to themselves and their parents that they do have this adulting thing down as they prepare for the next part of their lives. But the trip doesn’t go exactly as planned. Along with tensions within their friendship that bubble to the surface, there’s also something sinister waiting for them in the woods.

The Woods Are Watching gets off to a slow start, with the first third or so of the book mostly focusing on the girls camping in the woods. Other than their bickering, nothing is really amiss until the evil in the woods reveals itself just before the end of the first third. Despite the unhurried pace, Perkins sets subtle hints that contribute to the blood-curdling atmosphere. Though nothing terrible happens, readers get the sense that something is brewing, pushing them to keep reading.

In this first section, the author includes lots of intricate details to create the forest setting, anchoring the reader in the book’s world. She’s particularly skilled at using sensory detail to bring the environment to life.

Once the action actually happens, the pacing dramatically shifts. The stakes shoot up and the plot speeds ahead, so much so that readers can barely keep up. With cliff-hanger chapter endings and impossible circumstances faced by the protagonists, readers won’t be able to resist devouring it all in a few gulps.

The relationship between the two protagonists isn’t perfect, but is instead a realistic friendship complete with resentment, tension, and emotions that are yet to be voiced. As the story begins with a focus on their friendship, it is also satisfying to see this theme continuing to emerge throughout the story.

The storyline is simple and easy to follow but still includes twists and surprises. It will keep you guessing right until the open-ended ending and Perkins masterfully hooks her readers’ interest with pressure that slowly builds until it explodes.

One of the most terrifying parts of this story is the grim reality of the villains. Though you might have to suspend belief to some extent, they are painted with such detail that the reader can see–and smell–them clearly. The author gives us a glimpse into their backgrounds which left me wanting more details about the inner workings of their minds.

The Woods Are Always Watching is very graphic and not ideal for the kind of reader who doesn’t have a strong stomach. It is, however, quick and entertaining, perfect for those who are not hardcore horror fans but crave a page-turning thriller. It’s an especially fitting read as Halloween approaches, when even readers who have an aversion to the genre might be in the mood for something hair-raising.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan
Released: 31 August 2021
RRP: $18.99

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