The Woods are Always Watching, by Stephanie Perkins

Best friends Neena and Josie are about to be separated for college. As a last hurrah – and attempt to cement their friendship – they decide to go backpacking and camping for three days in the Appalachian Mountains. Of course, neither of them are outdoorsy, and their preparation is more academic than practical. What could go wrong?

Book TW: rape, sexual assault, mention of sexual abuse, loss of a parent, loss of a limb, discussion/threat of necrophilia, discussion/threat of torture.

Oh god, y’all. This book. It was…just no. I mean, at first I liked it. The first hundred pages or so was about these two girls getting their butts kicked by nature and hiking because they were completely unprepared. The message was clear: Don’t be this kind of stupid. And of course, because the girls are hurting and cranky, it provides a perfect stew for their resentments to come to life and boil over, so they bicker a lot. All this is fine. May not be every person’s book, but I get it. I’m cool with that part.

Then comes the turn towards a “waking nightmare” as the book jacket describes it, and the book descends into a cross between Deliverance and a Road Runner cartoon. It was that bad, y’all. It doesn’t help that, due to the cover and the fact that people were reading this for RIP, I expected the turn toward nightmare to involve something spooky, occultish, ritualistic, or otherwise Halloween-dark. No. There is nothing RIP-like about this book. It’s a thriller that plays on stereotypes and leans heavily on gory images for tension. I mean, yeah, it’s scary that bad people exist and do bad things, but that doesn’t make the book a “dark thriller” or in any way RIP-ish. It also doesn’t warrant a spooky cover that plays off paranormal packaging. So don’t let the cover fool you. This is a straight up YA thriller that isn’t all that well-executed.

The rest of this review will contain spoilers, because I need a place to write these thoughts down. This book was so maddening! So skip the rest if you don’t want to know. Also skip if you don’t like mean reviews. I normally try to stay very neutral about books, even ones I dislike, but sometimes, books deserve rants, and this is one of those times.

Seriously. We’re going to play on the stupid poor bumbling Appalachian man trope? Ugh.

Seems pretty convenient that this duo of bumbling Appalachian men are responsible for all the “incidents” in a fairly wide radius of this mountain. Accidents, missing hikers, murders…well, it’s all these two. They get around.

Literally Josie fell into a hole that the two men set up as a trap. They had guns and could have overpowered the girls easily, but instead, they built a Road Runner trap by laying branches and leaves over the top of a hole. And the girls fell for it.

Somehow Josie doesn’t die after first breaking her leg/ankle so badly that her foot is literally hanging on by skin, and then later getting her entire hand shot off. She’s bleeding profusely for hours in a hole, and later manages to walk away. Um. No.

Neena goes for help. She’s a severe asthmatic. She remembers to take her phone, her keys, and a protein bar, but not 1) the printed maps or 2) her inhalers. I mean, she’s going to be running for miles around a mountain to try to get to her car so she can get battery into her phone and call someone, but she forgets the inhalers that have been a daily constant for her entire life. Sure. I’ll buy that.

These two girls slept in a tent not that far away from another tent – which had a days-old rotting corpse inside, that somehow they didn’t smell at all.

I can’t tell you how many times that somehow the men and the girls end up finding each other despite previously being miles apart. It’s a bit…convenient.

But nothing, nothing, compares to the three things that happen at the climax of the book. First, at two separate times, each of the girls are touched in some way by each of the men. When Older Man kisses Josie, her mind floods with the whole backstory of his character which has no relevance whatsoever to the plot and which is never mentioned again. Later, Younger Man tries to strangle Neena, and her mind floods with the whole backstory of his character (same spiel). In no other part of this book is there anything even remotely psychic or paranormal, and yet this happens out of the blue and for no reason at all, as if the author couldn’t figure out a way to work in the backstory of these guys and thus had to info-dump in the most awkward way ever.

Then, just as the girls are about the be killed, a giant bear charges into the clearing – where there’s been shouting and gunshots and a fire, because that’s exactly where a bear would go, yeah? – and starts mauling the men. Bear as divine retribution, or something? Bear ex machina?

So the girls escape while the bear is busy, manage to get back to their car, and miraculously, Josie (missing two limbs) drives them away because Neena is almost unconscious with the asthma issue at this point. Not only is Josie down two limbs, she’s only been behind the wheel of a car twice in her life, both years ago, because of panic attacks. Somehow she just magically knows how to drive, minus two limbs at that, minus all the blood loss, and this is fine. Yeah. This is fine. This is a good place to end the book. They’re gonna be okay.

No. No no no. I just can’t. Why did I keep reading this book? Most people on GR complain about how the first 100 pages are just the two girls suffering and bickering before the action gets started. That was the only interesting – and realistic – part! As soon as I got to the part when Josie fell into the “trap,” I should have stopped. I knew it was going to be downhill from there. I’d seen the things people said about the book. Literally the only reason I kept reading was first because I thought something spooky and witchy would eventually come up – like maybe these men being part of some kind of cult – and then because I was so close to the end anyway and couldn’t look away from the train-wreck.

Save yourself the eye strain. This one is not worth it.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2021, Prose, Young Adult and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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