If you recall my review of The Hazel Wood,* I used the word creepy, like, 5 times. Creepy books are not my normal binge these days. My new obsession is The Zoo. And Secrets of the Zoo. And…well, you get the picture.
But when I saw that Melissa Albert wrote a sequel, I jumped at the chance to add my name to the waiting list at the e-library and—viola!—the Hinterland stars aligned to deliver The Night Country for my reading pleasure, exactly two years after I read the first book.
The story picks up not too long after the first book ends. Alice is graduating from high school, trying to find a normal life in the real world. If only the characters who escaped the Hinterland—the “Ex-Stories”—would stop trying to drag her back into their weirdly creepy society, she might have a chance. But throw in a few murders à la Robert Durst (ahem, I’ll keep my feet attached to my body, please) that seem to point in her direction as the culprit, and Alice doesn’t stand a chance. She’s all in.
While the first book has elements of the mysterious, the sequel reads like a good murder mystery, albeit with characters that are a far cry from Clue. Albert is terrific at world-building and creating characters with odd backstories, like Sophia, the Ex-Story who can’t die but can see how others will. With the fragrance of a fairy tale and the taste of balut, the motivations of every character are suspect.
Aside from that, it’s also a timely story. We are in the middle of graduation season right now, but not a normal season thanks to COVID-19. Like Alice, many graduating students are probably feeling a mix of hopefulness, pride, and anxiety for the future as they step into an adult world that is a little off, to say the least. How will they find their way? What story will they choose to be part of? Can they break ties with old friends and situations that drag them down, or is it more comfortable to be with the devil they know?
These are not just questions for the young. More seasoned adults who read YA can find themselves in the book as well. If you are one of my ten followers who fall in that category (hi, mom!), think back to the last time you changed jobs. Moved towns. Started a new relationship. Each time, you had an opportunity to write your story.
In the end, that’s why I heart The Night Country. I’m not reading creepy books right now, but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. It’s a good reminder that our world is made of stories: the ones we write for ourselves, the ones we write for others (true or not). As much fun as it is to dip a toe in the creepy world of the Hinterland, I’m surpassingly happy to be part of a story that has a much different ending.
* How could you possibly recall my review of The Hazel Wood when it was so long ago? I barely remembered the book! If only I had more self-control and could wait until a series was published in its entirety before starting it…