At some point or another, all teenagers question the things that their parents have taught them, but for 17-year-old Castley Cresswell, challenging her father might be her only hope of living a normal life – or living, at all.
Castley and her five siblings live in an isolated house in the woods, where their father has kept them far away from the evils of the modern world. Unfortunately, some of the things their father considers evil include such things as television, plumbing, and even medicine, making daily life at best a chore and at worst utterly terrifying.
He’s written his own book of revelations, and insists on the kids reading aloud from it every night. But after an intervention from a neighbour, the Cresswells are sent to school. And that’s where the trouble begins.
In The Dark, In The Woods packs in a lot of ideas for such a short book. When we meet Castley and her brothers and sisters, they’re in the middle of a transition, trying to reconcile the lessons of their unusual upbringing with the things they’ve seen of the wider world. This means they tend to act in erratic and unpredictable ways, rebelling one moment but acquiescing to their dad’s bizarre demands the next. From a psychological point of view, that probably makes sense, but it results in a slightly unsettling read.
It doesn’t help that there are so many characters; some of Castley’s brothers get to be developed further, but her sisters might as well not exist. Castley, though, is a compelling character, and it’s impossible not to root for her as she struggles to figure out who she is, and what she believes. There’s real horror here, and while the ending tries to wrap everything up neatly, it feels like the story is far from over.