October 31, 2020

Rin Chupeco: "The Girl from the Well"

Title: The Girl from the Well [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Girl from the Well (1st of 2 books)
Author: Rin Chupeco [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2014
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Fresh take on a popular Japanese piece of lore. Pitch-perfect lead voice. Unconventional character dynamics.
Cons: If you prefer more approachable leads and action over atmosphere, this might not be your cup of tea.
WARNING! Graphic violence/gore. A drowning scene.
Will appeal to: Those who enjoy an eerie quality in their horror.

Blurb: A dead girl walks the streets. She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago. And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan. Because the boy has a terrifying secret - one that would just kill to get out. (Goodreads)

Review: Sort-of disclaimer: I'm not familiar with Japanese folklore, and I've never read the book Bancho Sarayashiki/seen the movie Ringu (which, apparently, this book loosely bases its premise on), so I can't vouch for the originality of this story. But according to the reviews I've read, the Girl from the Well myth is just a starting point for the author to build on. As for me, I've never come across a ghost story like this one...and I've read my share πŸ˜‰.

GHOST TALK

I don't go out of my way in order to read horror. I do, however, go out of my way in order to read books about dead/undead characters. Usually, those do come with a dose of horror, but their protagonists tend to be relatable and/or remarkably human for someone who either got their link to the living severed or turned into a creature of sort. TGFTW is a different kind of fish (well...ghost πŸ˜‰), in that 1) Okiku is the one of oldest ghosts I've ever read about and 2) she's a vengeful one, which premises combined give birth to a totally different character than the ones I usually meet in my afterlife stories. Chupeco does a brilliant job in walking the line between innocent dead girl and centuries-old monster, never falling into the trap of humanising her lead too much, never letting us forget that she's a killer (though for a reason we can empathise with), but at the same time making her understandable and partly relatable. She mainly achieves such goal by giving Okiku a distinct, detached voice that sometimes blends so much into the narrative as to make us forget we're seeing the other characters through her eyes - until she resurfaces. It sounds disorienting on paper, but it's actually very effective. Add to it Okiku's sometimes fractured monologue and her obsession with counting (which ties in with the circumstances of her death), and you have a peculiar narrator who infuses this creepy story with an even creepier, strong flavour. [...]

RELATIONSHIP ODD(S)

Another aspect that makes TGFTW stand out among your usual afterlife books - at least those where the ghost lead interacts with the living - is that the narrator doesn't exactly befriends the human protagonist(s), nor they develop romantic feelings for each other (though, spoiler! Book 2 will take a different route). The reason why Okiku finds herself drawn to Tarquin (the male lead) has nothing to do with human attraction, and all to do with his deadly secret, one that's even too apparent to her. Again, Chupeco masterly brings them close to each other (making Okiku a little more human in the process) in a way that never feels out of character when it comes to a three-hundred y.o. murderous ghost, because what's happening with Tarquin is exactly Okiku's field of expertise, so to speak. Tarquin himself manages to sound like a real teen despite his situation being...peculiar at best, and his family legacy a devastating burden in more than one way. And while his father is conveniently absent for the story climax, and oblivious to Tarquin's deadly secret, the boy finds a sidekick in his cousin Callie, who may be a bit less believable than the two protagonists for a few reasons, and a bit too foolhardy for her own good, but is a strong, brave and warm-hearted character that I enjoyed reading about, and who manages to help save the day in the end.

BONUS POINTS

The ones above are the things that I liked best about TGFTW, but there are a couple more that deserve to get highlighted:
  • The setting. As I stated at the beginning of my review, I'm no expert when it comes to Japanese folklore, and I must admit that I was a little overwhelmed by the abundance of Japanese terms used in this book (mind you, they were totally legitimated). That being said, or precisely for those reasons, I really enjoyed the second half of the novel, the one actually set in Japan. It was a refreshing change from all the U.S.-centered supernatural/horror fiction I (and, let's admit it, most of us) have been reading, and the doll ritual, with its (all female) performers, while building on a classic trope, was a thing of terrible beauty.
  • The ending. I didn't see it coming, despite knowing that Okiku and Tarquin would be a team in Book 2, and to my knowledge, it has never been done before (at least in YA). And even knowing that the duo's relationship will take a different turn in Book 2 (honestly, was it REALLY necessary? πŸ™„), I'm happy with how the author wrapped this one up (also, NO CLIFFHANGER IN SIGHT, thank goodness).

For my "The Suffering" review (second installment in the series) click here.
For more Afterlife books click here.

8 comments:

  1. I always get excited about settings outside the US as well. I will admit, I am a stranger to many parts of my country, but I have wanderlust and that means outside the US. I think I have only read maybe 5 or 6 books set in Japan too.

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    1. "I am a stranger to many parts of my country".
      Ah, but it's a HUGE country! I don't think many Americans have visited most of it. At least you made it a mission to read at least one book set in every state, haven't you? πŸ™‚

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  2. Ooh I remember wondering about this one. Rin Chupeco's books have caught my eye from time to time before. I love the idea of Japanese folklore so that definitely gets mu interest.

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    1. Her other books have gotten more traction than this one and its sequel (I haven't read them and don't plan to because they're fantasy though), which is a pity. Ha! I know you love your Japan πŸ˜‰. I do encourage you to try this duology!

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  3. This does seem like it's a little different than what you normally go for, but I can see why you would like it. And ooh partly set in Japan! I like when books are set in countries other than the US.

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    1. It's not very different, really. Anything with ghosts in it and I'm already half hooked LOL. It's quite dark, so maybe not really your thing, but what with your love for paranormal/supernatural, it might work for you!

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  4. This one sounds like the scariest book from your Halloween reviews. Anything to do with cults or rituals always freaks me out, especially if it has to do with dolls. The characters sound great though. I love when writers create morally grey or evil characters and make them protagonists without having to water them down.

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    Replies
    1. It is probably the scariest, but there are no cults in it...only ancient Japanese rituals to purify humans from demons and the likes. Oops, I just realised I sounded so blasΓ© LOL.

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