*I received an ecopy of this book via BookSirens. This has not influenced my review.*
This was so ominous and atmospheric. It sort of felt like a fairy tale—the real kind, with child-eating monsters—but more modern and gritty. Pretty and ethereal one moment, violent and unsavory the next.
The characters were interesting. Flawed and rough around the edges, but still wanting to do the right thing. Still likeable. Mackie got into a lot of fights, had a toxic “on again, off again” relationship with someone, didn’t have a lot of friends, didn’t always speak up when he should’ve, didn’t want to face the reality of his father’s declining health, was confused about what he was feeling for the boy he’d grown up with. But he cared deeply for Blue and would’ve done (did do) so much to try and protect him, and he was just trying to get through college and fix up his car and start his own auto shop and have a decent life. Meanwhile, Blue was glamorous in a grungy sort of way, charismatic, always drawing people to him, a straight-A student. And yet, he had insecurities and hurt people without even realizing it and sometimes made bad decisions that ended up hurting himself.
There were some heavy topics in this book. Not just the violence of the supernatural/horror-ish elements. Things like a dying parent, homophobia, bullying, sexual assault, and all the messy, confusing, fucked-up feelings that can come with them.
I loved both the setting of the town—bordering a forest, full of “we don’t talk about it” denial and bonfire parties and this feeling of pent-up violence (at least, surrounding Blue and Mackie)—and the forest itself—full of death and danger and magic. Who doesn’t love a good creepy, magical forest?
The book is not pure darkness though. The way the two boys cared about each other was sweet. The evolution from best friends to, “Shit, I think I have decidedly not-platonic feelings,” was fun. The follow through of those feelings was sexy and beautiful. The friendship between Mackie and Sam was nice. Trying to avoid spoilers, I’ll say there’s a bittersweet element to the ending, but this is the first in a series according to the book cover, so that might change (but I don’t know anything about the second book at the time of this review).
Overall, I really enjoyed this. The creepy forest, the ominous feel, and especially the flawed characters and their messy feelings about themselves and each other. If the next book is about them as well, then I look forward to reading it.
Trigger/Content Warning: *POTENTIAL SPOILERS* On-screen sexual assault (witnessed by the POV character). Violence and gore. Bullying. Homophobia. Death of a parent. *END SPOILERS*
Anyone who likes atmospheric and ominous stories, creepy magical forests, some exploration of heavy topics, imperfect characters with messy emotions, and queer love.