Published by Simon & Schuster Children's UK on October 6th 2016
Genres: Horror, Supernatural, Young Adult
Lucy Acosta's mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They're inseparable—a family.
When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she's ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother's voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin's sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A large, old house on a private estate. Young cousins wrapped up in a family mystery. A possibly corrupt country club that could be up to no good. Sudden, hideous deaths. All sounds like it should be the makings of a good solid horror tale no? Well….
I’m going to come straight to the point here – The Women In The Walls is a truly disappointing novel! Amy Lukavics started off with an intriguing premise – young girls in a secluded country house get caught up in supernatural goings on after a family member disappears – but it all falls apart so quickly. Here is a novel with so many faults, it’s genuinely hard to know where to begin.
To start with, the main character Lucy Acosta is a truly awful narrator, and to be honest a lot of the novel’s failings lie with the choice of a first person narrative. Lucy is a whiny, immature, selfish, pain in the ass. But that’s not all. Not only is she completely indecisive, incapable of sticking to an action or belief, but she also seems to have short-term memory loss. Barely a page goes by where we’re not reminded of a plot point (be it inconsequential or a massive neon sign to what’s coming), conversation, or action from any point in the novel – even just a few pages previously. Either Lucy is Dory in disguise or Amy Lukavics thinks all her readers are complete idiots.
Other characters are far more interesting than Lucy, adding fuel to the argument for at least a third-person narrative style. Because of the limitations that Lukavics has placed on her characters, by the time their motives are revealed any attachment to people such as Lucy’s aunt Penelope swiftly disappears. Her cousin Margaret isn’t developed enough in her own right before the ‘insanity’ begins, so the impact of her decline just isn’t there. When Lucy recounts how they used to be it comes across as unreliable because we just don’t witness it. Margaret starts as a bit of a cold bitch and descends from there. The same goes for her (non)relationship with her father. Many times Lucy speaks of her cold and distant father, but then rarely gives him anything but attitude in return. There’s also a weird dynamic with the cook’s daughter Vanessa, which Lucy sums up as ‘may have been friends’ under different circumstances. Nah. Don’t think so love.
Atmosphere is non-existent. The Women In The Walls is billed as a horror, but it’s more schlock-gore than anything else. There’s a few attempts at psychological mind-messing, but the repetitiveness means it loses all effect after the fourth or fifth time. Mainly the ‘horror’ is in the depictions of the deaths and that’s it. There’s no real build-up to them just ‘WHAM’ and full-on description of the corpse. I’m a big fan of the horror genre, and those that do it well know how to build up the suspense, leaving the reader dreading turning that next page. Lukavics just spews it up in a couple of paragraphs then it’s onto the next scene. (Until, of course, you’re reminded of it ten pages later.)
It’s hard to pin-point when The Women in The Walls is set due to a bizarre concoction of old-time country-club values and ridiculous phrasing of supposedly teenage girls. Whether Lukavics wanted to avoid using brand names or specific references, I still don’t think anyone would ever coin the term “expert in search engines”. It wasn’t until the moment that Lucy decides to ‘research’ the history of the estate that I realised it was set in modern times. This makes our main character’s decision to not pick up the phone or call out for help on line when her aunt disappears even more baffling – especially as she never sees any police and her father is questionably obtuse about the whole matter. I can kind of see what Lukovics was trying to achieve by giving the Acostas a ‘secluded family’ feel, but the world surrounding them highlights that’s not the case.
The ending is convoluted to say the least, leaving a lot unresolved. But to be honest, by the time I got there I truly stopped caring.
One final thing that really irked about this novel is the use of self-harm as a character defining tool: it’s added as a crutch for Lucy, but never fully realised. There’s lots of talk about ‘release’ and counting the scars, but Lukavics never really expands upon that. It seems to be added as a ‘cool quirk’ and I find that distasteful, especially in a novel that’s aimed at a teen audience.
On the subject of the audience for The Women In The Walls – they deserve better than this. The Young Adult market is full of smart, capable, savvy readers, and they’ll see through this kind of bull from a mile off. Raised on Gaiman, Stine, and new writers such as Higson and Riggs, there’s a generation out there that demands more than stereotypes and cheap gore.