Book Reviews

[review] Through the Woods – Emily Carroll

through the woods emily carroll coverRelease Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased copy

‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…

Tell Me More: When I first found Emily Carroll’s webcomic “His Face All Red” on a quiet summer afternoon, I had no idea what I had stumbled upon. The comic takes up your entire screen, surrounded by black space, and drawing your eye to the horrifying revelations that come in later panels. Through the Woods cradles this story in the middle of its pages, and its familiarity is surprisingly comforting as the rest of the short stories work their unsettling magic.

“An Introduction” does a superb job at setting the tone of this collection: who hasn’t spent nights reading by the light of a single lamp? Who hasn’t felt like there was something in the darkness, waiting to draw us down, and curled up closer to the light? It only takes three pages for the chill to settle against the back of your neck, a testament to the strength of Carroll’s writing style and art.

All six of the stories involve travel through the woods, easily a metaphor for change and transformation. Death itself is just a transition, not a permanent shift, coming back to pick at the bones of what is left behind. “Our Neighbor’s House” starts out with white space, playing at the security we feel in the daylight. The pages never grow completely dark, just shadowed as the story builds to its climax. It may be a polarizing and confusing ending for some, but the various implications of that ending were enough for me to be thoroughly creeped out.

faceCarroll’s use of colour is superb, building the suspense just as deftly as the melody of her words. In “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” our protagonist comes to live in a blue house, blue walls, blue tones. It is cold, deathlike, sterile. But as the story goes on, the colours shift to oranges and red, raising alarm in the reader. There is something coming for her, even as she begins to take control of her own story. “His Face All Red” is similarly enhanced by Carroll’s use of colour: the pages are already singed red at the start, only growing darker.

“My Friend Janna” is a strong cautionary tale about playing with forces you can’t see, and the greys and dull browns do a fantastic job of drawing a haze around the characters and the reader. It leads perfectly into the final story, “The Nesting Place,” which I must admit still makes me uneasy months after reading. It is viscerally frightening, and I do feel that readers should be warned for some body horror that will live with you past the final page.

The scariest thing about all of Carroll’s stories are what the characters don’t say. It’s a reflection of real life, and how we are made uneasy when we aren’t sure what people are thinking or doing. The father in “Our Neighbor’s House” doesn’t explain why they should go to the neighbor if he doesn’t come back, just that they should. In “A Lady’s Hands,” our protagonist’s curiousity is stoked by the mystery of the singing voice, something her husband never mentioned. We aren’t sure what happens to “Janna,” but our imaginations happily take on that challenge. Carroll doesn’t have to give us straight, clear-cut explanations, because horror can always be found in what we don’t know.

The Final Say: Through the Woods is a stellar collection of beautifully drawn tales, best read as the winter sun begins to set, and the curtains ripple with the wind you’re sure can’t be coming from outside. Because that window is closed. Right?

emily carroll author photoAbout Emily

Emily Carroll was born in London, Ontario, in June of 1983. In addition to the many short online comics found at her website, her work has been featured in numerous print anthologies. She currently lives with her wife Kate and their large orange cat in Stratford, Ontario.

Add Through the Woods on Goodreads | Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyterrible | Visit Emily’s website

Order Through the Woods from Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters


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