Published: August 2013
Genre: gothic, horror, paranormal, young adult
Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.
Violet and her twin brother Luke are practically orphans, their artists parents gone on a long European artistic holiday for over a year. In order to pay for their crumbling seaside manor, Violet puts up a notice for a renter in their guesthouse. Within hours, River West blows in, with his vintage car and linen slacks and devil-may-care smile. Violet is drawn to him without understanding why, and knows that every word out of his mouth is a lie. As children become bewitched, a man commits suicide, and news of nearby towns going insane, Violet begins to connect the events to River, and is determined to stop it.
The publisher’s summary is a lie. In a good way. Do not be misled into thinking Violet will be another dim-witted “heroine” who can’t help but fall in love with the bad guy. No, Violet is not in love. She never is in love. Her every action with and towards River is for a reason, and that reason is not blinding love. River and Violet are like Heathcliff and Cathy, only not as animalistic and passionate. Imagine if Heathcliff had a supernatural power that controlled Cathy’s emotions. River is Heathcliff in every possible way a character is a Byronic hero. Violet is Cathy, born of wealth but with a free spirit and an unexpected tendency to transgress social boundaries. Unlike Heathcliff and Cathy’s passionate love (and equal hate) for one another, River and Violet step around each other, one heavily drawn to the other while the other is filled with loathing.
The connections between River’s family history, Violet’s family history, and other family histories in the town of Echo are a bit reminiscent of Great Gatsby and Wuthering Heights blended together, as well. There’s the wealth and parties and sex and drinking and drugs of the roaring ’20s, mixed with familial commingling, forbidden love, and supernatural fears of the devil and hell and sin. An absolutely fascinating blend.
What’s so great about this book is that River isn’t exactly a bad guy or a good guy. His character is a very complex one. Tucholke urges the reader to face the complexities of humanity. River has power, and it’s not always used for good intentions or ill, selfless or selfishly. He’s an addict, through and through, and his words and his actions make it difficult for Violet, and the reader, to trust him. I love that.