Novel: Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand | Goodreads
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.
He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.
Who are the Sawkill Girls?
Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.
Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.
Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.
Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.
Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.
I’ve been looking forward to this read for a while. It was one of my top picks from ALA 2018 this summer, and I also featured it in my October releases spotlight. Still, Sawkill Girls is one of those books I wanted to own in hardcover. As someone who flat out refuses to order print books from Amazon, I suffered in my small town (which doesn’t have any good bookstores.)
Within a few pages, it was worth the wait. Claire LeGrand’s fierce setting and bloodthirsty premise make for an engaging read right away; throw in some twisted character dynamics and some stunning language for flavor. The Rock itself has a persona, and it reminds me a little of The Scorpio Races.
The plot begins with Marion, who introduces herself as a “mountain,” suffering through the recent death of her father. As a way of dealing with their grief, her family uproots to the money-saturated Sawkill Rock. Once there, the charismatic pull of the Mortimer family is obvious over the rest of the island. Their horses are beloved, and their daughter Val has a magnetism that draws everyone closer.
A magnetism that Zoey, the tough and noble sheriff’s daughter, keeps trying to tell everyone isn’t normal. Thora, her best friend, wouldn’t be missing if not for having become best friends with Val. But as everyone keeps telling her — including her ex-boyfriend and best friend, Grayson — everyone on the island has a connection to the Mortimers, so she has no definitive evidence.
But when Marion’s sister, Charlotte, gets tangled up with Val, and Mairon starts hearing voices, their paths collide in ways that make it clear that whatever force is on the island is only getting stronger.
For one, I’m weak for books with weird, alluring characters. Additionally, Val was complicated, and so I actually ended up loving her. The Collector (bogeyman) and her mother beat her down, but she’s also so desensitized to the killings. She’s morally gray, and beyond well-written. The book revolves around the Mortimers, and everything else that happens is an offshoot of that.
I feel like most supernatural books like this — that feel straight out of a horror movie — tiptoe around the subject a little too much, but Sawkill Girls plunges straight in. People die, and disappear. Val knows about it. Ensue shenanigans.
Sawkill Girls doesn’t hold back with the violence. The bogeyman feeds, and the aftermath isn’t made into a euphemism. The taken girls suffer; the narrative mentions body parts, screaming, and plenty of gory details that make it even more painful to read about girls fighting back against the monster.
Zoey and Marion were both great characters as well, for different reasons. Zoey was angry and outcast, but also pretty normal and relatable. Plus, her relationship with Grayson was confused but built on a ton of affection and history that was appealing and well-developed. Marion was grieving and tough, but also down-to-earth and accessible. Each of the points-of-view feels distinct but fits with the tone of the book.
The lore and the pacing are executed phenomenally. On one note, the magical bits of it are folky and all-encompassing — my favorite. The setting feeds the atmosphere which feeds the language. And normally, with books like this that are so writing-heavy, it feels like the plot or logic goes to the wayside. With the exception of some scatteredness at the end, the narrative itself was pretty tight. Towards the end, spots of it could feel a little too drawn out.
The tone of the book does change. It’s always dark and sinister, with a lot of mysticism. In some patches, it gets brutally harsh. Still, the language softens it and captures a lot of the island persona. (“Place as character” is one of my favorite tropes.) Towards the end, it gets a little whimsical, and I lost hold of the plot. Still, the character dynamics, prose, and setting were enough to keep me rooted to the story.
The bogeyman was terrifying. The force described was powerful and threatening, but never felt flat. Its behavior was always unhinged, and unsettling, and the verbs used to describe the creature made it really potent. (Weird compliment, but I’m going to roll with it — LeGrand’s control and precision of her language really shone in this regard.)
I will note that although it’s a powerful feminist narrative — and has gotten a lot of praise for its queer relationship, as well as its girls-fighting-with-girls focus, which is awesome — it could occasionally feel a little too aggressive in that regard. We get it, men are evil. Also, certain elements of the plot felt too heavily manipulated to fit this theme, which seemed to disrupt the flow of the story.
Overall, I loved Sawkill Girls. It was so up my alley — chilling, malevolent antagonist; a gripping supernatural mystery; complicated, morally gray characters who were all equally engrossing; stunning writing; place as character. Its quick pacing paired with the thoroughly dark, saturated atmosphere made it an escapist read. It reminds me a lot of Stranger Things meets The Babadook meets The Graces, with some possession thrown in for good measure. Huge fan.