Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by A. G. Tucholke

Goodreads blurb:

You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town… until River West comes along. River rents the guest house 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.

Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.

My Review:

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is in many ways a very original, innovative book—it’s the first time YA Gothic horror has really been given attention and a publicity boost. I finished this book over two weeks ago and I’m still on the fence about certain elements, but one thing is for sure: it’s the first of its kind (and hopefully, not the last).

What I liked:

Setting is a requirement for Gothic horror, in fact, it’s all right there in the definition—just ask Wiki. And setting is where this book shines. Crumbling mansions, spooky small towns, an overwhelming atmosphere of dread and impending doom, this book has these things in droves. The Citizen (what Violet’s grandmother used to call the house) and Violet’s family have a deliciously tangled, shady history, and from the very beginning atmospheric detail abounds. Then the requisite sexy, mysterious stranger arrives in the form of River West, and strange things start happening: disappearances, devil sightings, people acting increasingly off-kilter… you name it. This is classic Gothic, updated for 2013. And River West was exactly the kind of morally ambiguous antihero love interest I tend to swoon over.  A real antihero, not just a semi-abusive boyfriend whose creepy behavior is presented as romantic! I think this is a very fine line—I can’t stand the latter but love, love, love the former, and wish there were more of them in YA. And Tucholke pulls it off brilliantly.

What I liked less:

I love a good creepy setting, but just like genre elements do not a story make (how many times have I ranted about this? I lost count…) nor does a setting alone. That was my biggest problem with Between. At some point I became exasperated with it for taking so damn long to get to the point! The final rise and fall of events came too late and was too abrupt for my liking—I wished the book were more evenly paced.

Also, this is just me and my personal taste—but I’m not a fan of the villain coming out of nowhere, i.e. turning out to be someone we’ve never met before the final showdown. A huge part of Gothic horror is the mystery element, and for any strong mystery storyline this is a big no-no. The readers must get a chance to figure out who the bad guy is—if he just appears randomly, we feel cheated.

Finally, there was a certain lack of realism other reviews pointed out already: absence of child services and property taxes, and people who are supposedly broke buying luxury food items. But, in keeping with the Gothic tradition, atmosphere trumps realism and a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. Personally, I had no problem with it.


Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is a slow-paced, lyrical read for those who like their horror subtle and are looking for a YA Daphne Du Maurier. I give it three and a half stars rounded up to four. 

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