Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) You may think me biased, being murdered myself. But my state of being has nothing to do with the curiosity toward my own species, if we can be called such. We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night.
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.
Thoughts: Chupeco takes the Japanese legend of Okiku and does something quite interesting with it, turning her from simply a ghost locked in a loop into an avenging ghost that punishes those who murder and abuse children, not just in Japan but wherever she’s called by the trapped spirits of said children. She isn’t, however, some sort of beautiful avenging angel, as one might expect. She alters from human to hideous, the remnants of the young woman she was in life running alongside the powerful and brutal ghost that hungers for the death of the wicked. It’s an interesting path to take with a traditional ghost story, and Chupeco managed the balance of Okiku’s dual-natured character quite well, I think.
Tied up with Okiku is the story of Tarquin, called Tark, a modern teenage boy whose mother is in a locked psych ward after trying to kill him. Tark knows the strange tattoos that cover his body were put there by her, though he doesn’t know why and he doesn’t remember much of his life before that moment. He struggles not just with the social stigma of all of this, but with the fact that elements of the supernatural are entering his life. His ordeal will lead him from small-town America to small-town Japan in an attempt to understand and alleviate the growing menace that plagues his life.
Most vast majority of the story is told from Okiku’s perspective, from her observations of Tark and his family to her brutal murders of murderers, which make it interesting to see justice from the shoulder of a spiritual vigilante, so to speak. Some parts of the story, however, are told without her being present to observe, with no change in tone, and sometimes even outright stating that Okiku is not present, leading to a very consistent narrative with an inconsistent narrator. Very good for the reader, so that the full story can be told, but not so good for internal consistency.
Okiku’s narrative is extremely good to read, though, and there’s a kind of poetry to the prose that goes beyond what I normally see in YA writing. The dialogue, however, is probably the weakest part of the book. With the exception of Tark’s sarcastic commentary, most of the dialogue feels forced or unrealistic, from the strangely perceptive and articulate elementary school girl to the verbose infodumps that characters occasionally give each other, most of the speech feels more like somebody said it in an online conversation than face to face.
(As a bit of an aside, I understand that in review copies, errors will be there, and I’m not supposed to comment on them because they may well not be there in the finished version. However, I would feel like I was doing this book a disservice if I didn’t mention it in this case, because part of the reason I’m not rating this book higher is because of some very awkward phrases and incorrect word usage that I found scattered throughout the book’s pages. It affected my reading experience, and as such affected my ultimate opinion of the novel. Not just typos and formatting errors, either; those I can and most often do overlook. If the errors I found in my review copy aren’t in the finished version, then great. Things get ironed out in editing, and that’s a good thing for future readers of The Girl From The Well. But I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention that here. Consider that this book might have gotten 4 stars instead of 3 had that not been part of my reading experience.)
Fans of J-horror are going to love this book. I can say that with confidence. It’s the kind of book that I couldn’t read at night, due to some creepy and evocative imagery that reminded me of one too many horror movies and one too many playthroughs of the Fatal Frame video game series. Chupeco has a real gift for creepy narratives, and for providing a new and interesting spin on traditional tales, and it really shows well here. It was also one of the few novels I’ve read involving Japanese culture that didn’t make me wince from stereotypes and inaccuracies. There’s some real promise here, and for those who are looking for a YA horror novel that offers something different, then The Girl From The Well is a good choice.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)