Saturday 9 October 2021

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Review: The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

Published: 3rd August 2021 | Publisher: Wednesday Books | Source: Bought
Courtney Gould’s Website

Courtney Gould's thrilling YA debut The Dead and the Dark is about the things that lurk in dark corners, the parts of you that can't remain hidden, and about finding home in places--and people--you didn't expect.

The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won't stay hidden any longer.

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn't normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV's most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV's ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there's more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton's boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she's felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who--or what--is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.
From The StoryGraph.

The StoryGraph | Goodreads

I have been craving YA horror for the past several months, so have been overjoyed to see a number of sapphic YA horrors publish recently. The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould sounded right up my street, and I had been saving it specifically to read during October's spooky season. But while I enjoyed it on the whole, I finished it with mixed feelings.

Logan is the daughter of TV ghost hunters Alejo and Brandon. Their success has meant a life living on the road travelling from place to place for the show, and a lot of time away from them during filming. She's close to Alejo, but her relationship with Brandon is strained and awkward, and has been ever since she once appeared on their show ParaSpectors. They're practically strangers, and no matter how hard she's tried, Brandon doesn't seem interested, so she stopped trying. Now, the family are moving yet again to Snakebite, the small town her parents are from, with plans to investigate strange happenings for their show. Logan is unhappy and desperately lonely, but she'll turn 18 in a few months, and will then be able to go and find somewhere to put down roots, a place to call home, away from a father who doesn't seem to want her.
Six months ago, Ashley's boyfriend Tristan disappeared without a trace. The police and people of Snakebite have searched and searched, but have come up with nothing. His disappearance coincided with the arrival of Brandon, who went on ahead of Alejo and Logan, to scout the location, and the townspeople are even more colder to Brandon than they were before he left. But while the people are cold, the weather is anything but, reaching extreme temperatures. With the arrival of Alejo and Logan, more teens go missing, only for their bodies to be found. The town becomes more convinced than ever that Brandon and Alejo are behind the deaths.
But Ashley doesn't want to believe Tristan is dead; she continues to feel his presence, and as no body has been discovered, she's convinced he's not. Logan wants to clear her parents names of crimes she's certain they didn't commit. So the two team up to figure out what happened to Tristan and who is behind the murders. But they discover there's something a lot darker and sinister at the heart of Snakebite, but they might the light that sees them both through.

The Dead and the Dark is narrated by both Logan and Ashley, with mostly alternating chapters. For this particular story, this actually worked really well. Being the daughter of professional ghost hunters, Logan knows about the dramatics and the things that are played up for TV, and doesn't really think there's anything out there. At the same time, she knows about her fathers' ghost hunting equipment - what it does and how to use it. Ashley, on the other hand, has started seeing ghosts. Of Tristan, and others, and people that are neither dead nor missing. So we get Logan's skepticism, but complete confidence that whatever's happening has nothing to do with her dads (no matter that she doesn't get on particularly well). We have Ashley seeing things for the first time that she can't fully explain, with Logan being the only one who will listen to her, because everyone else believes Tristan is dead, and what Ashley is experiencing is because of her grief. And then we have Logan sneaking her dads' equipment out, which seems to back up what Ashley is saying. Something is definitely going on, something more than just a murderer, and Ashley isn't losing her mind.

I really loved what Gould did with this story. The Dead and the Dark seemed quite a simple story for the most part while I was reading; teens disappearing and turning up dead, ghosts of people dead and alive, a murderer and possibly something much darker. But the more I read, the more depth was revealed. This is a story that has layers, and is a lot more complicated than it seems. I really loved this twist on the ghost story, especially as there are ghosts of people you know are alive. It keeps you asking questions, never quite sure what exactly is going on. I had theories, but they were completely off. Gould gives you just enough for you to think you have some idea of what's happening, even though there are not yet any answers, but then completely pulls the carpet out from under you feet when the truth is revealed. It was so clever and imaginative, and quite disturbing. I am fairly new to horror, so I'm not sure I could say what Gould did here has never been done before, but it was definitely refreshing and interesting.

It was fascinating to me how this is very much a queer story - with Logan having two dads, Logan being a lesbian, and Ashley finding herself falling for Logan - and how the story would be so different, if the characters weren't queer. That's not to say there would be no story, but I do think it would have been drastically different. I can't really get into it without giving away major spoilers, but it's a horror story born from the very real experiences of queer people; how they are seen and how they are treated. Honestly, it's mind-boggling to me, thinking about all the pieces of this story that would not be what they are if there were no queer characters. This is what I mean about the depth and the layers. It's just so damn clever, but equally really upsetting.

However, I do feel there was an issue with atmosphere. As I started reading The Dead and the Dark, I was overjoyed at the natural flow of the writing, realising it had been missing in some of my previous reads. I reveled in it. But I felt there was a lack of tension. There was no real build up to any of the scarier parts of the story; no feeling of dread or that something awful was just about to happen. Because of this, it was always a surprise, but so much of a surprise that I wouldn't realise that this was one of the climactic moments of the story until it was well and truly happening. Things just seemed weird, not scary, so I wasn't on the edge of my seat, I wasn't anticipating anything. It would just suddenly occur to me by how scared the characters were described being that this was one of those moments, but it never felt like it. And consequently, I was never scared myself. My emotions stayed pretty much neutral throughout. While I don't necessarily have to be scared to enjoy a horror, I don't expect to not be aware that a climactic moment is taking place.

I also couldn't tell you much about who Ashley and Logan are. I could tell you who their family is, and what they both feel about their current situation, but that's about it. I don't know what their interests of hobbies are, their dreams, or anything that makes them, them outside of what's currently happening in Snakebite. Because of this, I also struggled to believe the romance subplot. What exactly is it about the other person they're falling for? No clue, they just are, apparently. It was also strange, because they don't spend an awful amount of time in each other's company in the great scheme of things. Every time they're together, it's on page, but several weeks go by - several times - between chapters, where they've not been around each other at all, so what are their feelings based on? I just didn't really feel it. But it is a subplot, and didn't take away from the overall story.

Despite my issues, I was gripped by the story, and read it fairly quickly, wanting answers. I needed to know what was going on, who was involved, and the answers to several why and how questions. It was really intriguing, and I was completely captivated, and as I said, I loved what Gould did with the story, so I do recommend it. Just maybe don't expect to be scared much.

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