Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

I'll just come right out and say it: I was intrigued ever since I laid my eyes on the cover. In fact, 'intriguing' is the perfect word to describe April Genevieve Tucholke's debut novel "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea"--there couldn't be a better word for a story that works its sinuously delicious, gothic magic on you as you flip through its pages. Trust me, just because it's summer, doesn't mean you can't get shivers down your spine! This book certainly proved that right.

Hardly anything exciting happens to Violet White in the sleepy seaside town of Echo. That is, until the mysterious River West comes along. When River rents the guesthouse behind Violet's crumbling estate, eerie things start to happen, making Violet wonder just who this boy with a crooked smile is. Violet's grandmother has always warned her about the Devil, but she never said it could be a charming, dark-haired teenage boy who packs picnics, likes coffee, and kisses you in a cemetery...and makes you want to kiss him back. Even though it's only been a few days, Violet's already fallen deeply in love with him, too deep to see straight. And that's just how River wants it.

"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is rich in its gothic atmosphere, with rickety, sprawling mansions and grim superstitions about darker powers. I've read quite a few gothic YA novels, ripe with the uncanny and romance, but I don't think many of them really had me enraptured like this one did. Of course, one of the most crucial components to gothic literature is the terror--that pleasing sort of terror that thrills you just as much as it gives you the heebie jeebies. This book definitely has the terror part down. I mean, all of the children in the town suddenly amassing into a grim stake-wielding, cross-bearing army? Or people rallying together to burn red-headed 'witches'? There's a lot of dark stuff going on in the story, from horrific sadism to crippling addiction, and Ms. Tucholke has definitely done and excellent job in crafting the perfectly eerie atmosphere for the story. I can't even count how many times I got the chills!

What I liked even more than the grim, gothic atmosphere of the novel was its great cast of characters, especially Violet. She is without a doubt a unique protagonist, with quirks like wearing her deceased grandmother's clothes and reading classics like Faust and Auden. Despite this, she never struck me as weird. Instead, Violet is an endearing heroine who's strong, compassionate, and has the ability to see ordinary things as a little more magical, something which can be seen in the subtly beautiful descriptions of Citizen Kane, the grand estate she and her twin brother, Luke, live in together. Violet's also very responsible, which did great things to not make her yet another one of those heroines who end up falling head over heels for the mysterious, hot stranger. Which, of course, brings me to the mysterious, hot River. My feelings toward River are pretty mixed. I think as the story progressed, they went from 'ooh hello good looking' to 'he's kind of a player' to 'what on earth, you're clearly messed up, get away from me' to 'ah, I guess I kinda understand you, you're not too bad after all'. If you had a hard time following along with my nonsensical train of thought, the long story short is that River's a complex character, and a pretty messed up one at that, too. But as the story progressed and we saw more of his past and his true feelings, I felt more and more sympathetic towards him, so maybe he's not too bad after all.

The other characters in the novel also played instrumental roles in making the book as great as it is. You have Luke, Violet's twin brother who plays all manly-macho, but has a soft side to him. And there's Sunshine, Violet's neighbour-and-sort-of-best-friend, who likes to show off her boobies, and whose thoughts are slow and calm like a babbling brook. There's also Neely, and all these other characters, who all make the book all the more exciting and vibrant. But I think my favourite character is definitely Freddie, Violet's grandmother. Despite the fact that she's long dead by the beginning of the book, her presence is strong throughout the novel, and it's one heck of a presence at that! Instead of your standard cookie-baking, sweater-knitting grandma, Freddie is eccentric and kind of...sensual, as gross as that sounds when you're describing a grandmother. I mean, there are nude paintings of her hanging around Citizen Kane! If that's not sensual, I don't know what is. I also thought the relationship between Freddie and Violet was really sweet, and gave even more life to her character.

Overall, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is a hauntingly enchanting story, with a rich, gothic atmosphere, a quirky, likable heroine, and a great cast of characters. I definitely recommend this novel for anyone looking for a thrilling read, and I can't wait to see how things develop in the sequel!

Rating: 4/5

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