‘The Cresswells are hiding something.’
They sure are. Eliza Wass’ novel, In The Dark, In The Woods, is a suspenseful read but not in the usual suspense-genre kind. I couldn’t put down the book. It took me only two days to finish it. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book that quickly.
The story revolves around the Cresswell family – the crippled mother who won’t go to the hospital, preferring to suffer the pain instead because she believes God will heal her; the father who writes his own Bible verses and adamantly believes the Cresswells are the only ‘pure people’ left in the world; and the six Cresswell kids stuck between their parents.
The book is written from the point of view of Castley Cresswell, a fifteen-year-old girl who just wants to be normal. You would think it’s an easy thing to do – be normal. But not for the Cresswell kids, especially when the whole town knows who they are and how many rules they have to follow to maintain their ‘purity’. They are often compared to the Amish people but with worse punishments.
These kids are under the mercy of their religious zealot of a father, who has no qualms hitting them as punishment, or throwing them in an underground cave for days without food and water. In The Dark is a haunting book, so well-written in the voice of a strong young girl. What I love most is how well the characters are developed. Each one has his/her own voice, so clearly unique that it is easy to believe their reactions to the situations they find themselves in.
You read the whole book wanting to know how these kids will be able to escape their father – if they can escape him at all. You get frustrated when the people who could help them fall short of your expectations. You root for the kids to find a way to free themselves from the clutches of death when their father decides it’s time to ‘go home to heaven’.
When the book finishes, you want to know what happens to the kids. You want to know how their lives pan out. If they get over the experiences of their childhood. If they go on to become professionals. If they ever free themselves from the strong beliefs of their parents. If they ever become normal.
But there is only one book and you can only hope the kids end up having a better life.
Kristyn M. Levis is a freelance writer, author and photographer based in Sydney. She is currently the managing editor of Her Collective. Her first novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, will be published this year.