The Dead And The Dark by Courtney Gould

I was genuinely creeped out by parts of this horror/mystery tale, which is saying a lot because most horror novels don’t scare me at all! Courtney Gould certainly knows how to build tension, even if I wasn’t 100% convinced by the Big Bad-related world-building. The rest of it, tho, is pretty great, especially in its examination of the realities of being gay in the 21st century.

Logan Ortiz-Woodley is looking forward to turning 18 in a scant few months so she can finally leave her parents behind and go live her best life. It’s not that she doesn’t get along with Dad, as she calls Alejo Ortiz, but after a weird experience filming their reality ghost-hunting show in Tulsa, she’s given up on trying to connect with her other father, whom she just calls by his first name. Brandon Woodley has always been the quieter, more awkward one of her dads, and while the odd couple vibes work well on TV, his detachment from his home life has always deeply hurt Logan, who can’t help feeling unwanted when he constantly pushes her away.

So she’s not really fussed when Brandon’s plan to scout locations in his hometown of Snakebite, Oregon stretches from the original one month timetable to six. She feels bad for Dad, who misses his husband, but she’s secretly glad not to have to endure the painful conversations that are all Brandon seems to know how to use to interact with her. It’s worse because he’s always so easy and happy with Dad, making her feel like even more of a pariah in her own family.

When Brandon finally tells them he’s ready for them to come to Snakebite, Logan is far more reluctant than Dad to leave their life in cosmopolitan, queer-friendly Los Angeles. Even so, she’s astonished to find that Snakebite is even worse than she’d imagined. Brandon and Alejo both came from there but left after the homophobia became too much for them. Things haven’t changed very much in the decade plus they’ve been away, but there has been one horrifying new development. Shortly after Brandon arrived in town, a local boy named Tristan went missing.

If the townsfolk hadn’t been set against Brandon before then, they certainly had little intention of warming up to him after. Logan soon finds herself joining forces with Ashley Barton, Tristan’s girlfriend and daughter of the town’s de facto head, to find the missing teenager and clear Brandon’s name in the process. But the darkness at the heart of Snakebite is watching and waiting for more victims. Even as Logan’s reluctant partnership with Ashley turns into friendship and something more, could everything they’re fighting for fall victim to the darkness of the town?

I loved this concept so much, and really enjoyed the multiple layers that Ms Gould deftly unpeels for us as we follow the viewpoints of both girls through a terrifying, life-changing time for them both. I wonder sometimes if the metaphor behind The Darkness didn’t feel belabored tho, and wish it had been tied in further to the history of the town. Especially given Alejo’s explanation of ghosts, I think something really rich and weird could have been hypothesized there. Tbh, I wish more time had been spent fleshing out details pertaining to The Darkness altogether, such as the non-drowning and how Logan fought back. I didn’t really understand its motivations, even for leaving, even with Elexis, and I wish more had been described of the toll it takes on its bearers. I’m also hoping that there’s a bit more editing in the finalized version, as the first time I read that Ashley could taste her pulse, I thought it was a really cool metaphor, but then found it significantly less cool the more it was repeated in the next few chapters.

Overall, a really solid YA debut, with a gorgeous cover. The diversity rep is outstanding, and Ms Gould convincingly writes about being a teenager and being queer in very relatable ways. She also knows how to write some truly spine-chilling scenes! I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of her stuff in future.

The Dead And The Dark by Courtney Gould was published today August 3 2021 by Wednesday Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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