Release Date: August 15, 2013
(Thank you to my wonderful critique partner!)
Published by: Dial
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…
Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery...who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.
Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.
**In an attempt to be more conscious of spoilers, I have blacked out potentially revealing information, though some of it isn't *that* bad, for those of you who are spoilerphobes.**
1. (+) Violet, the protagonist - Violet is unlike a lot of protagonists that I've read in YA lit. She embraces her eccentricity. She wears old clothes from her grandmother's closet, curls up with her books (and thus uses "odd, awkward words without thinking"), manages what little funds she and her artist/muscular jock-esque brother have (since their parents are on a trip to Europe and have not communicated with them in a while), already drinks coffee, and has a know-it-all gaze. She's smart; she quotes from obscure texts/poems and doesn't take her brother's crap when he tries to acting like a douche. Like her parents, she's also kind of an elitist and she paints. Here is what River says of her (p. 74, note that this could change in the final copy): "You're careful. Thoughtful. Perceptive. More honest than most. You hate recklessness but are impulsive yourself, when it suits you. You hate your brother, and you love him more than anything in the world. You wish your parents would come home, but you've learned to live without them. You like peace, but are capable of toe-curling violence, if pushed far enough."
2. (+) The Setting - This book is described as having elements of Stephen King (whose work I have not read) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (whose work I have read). As such, the Fitzgerald elements really show in the descriptions not only of Violet's old money family but also of her house, Citizen Kane, and its crumbling estate and guesthouse. And the town itself, where a lot of the creepy happenings occur.
3. (+/-) The Romance - River is certainly not portrayed as the typical romantic interest of young adult literature. Part of that is because of Violet - she notices his lean, panther hips and Byronic tendencies and linen pants (which she thought "only stubble-jawed Spanish men wore in European movies set by the sea") and swagger. While he grocery shops, he runs his hands through a barrel of cranberry beans and opens an egg carton to stroke the egg shells. He cooks and folds dollar bills into animal shapes and gives them to Violet because he worries about her current finances and because it's an apology of sorts. And he's deeply committed to "justice." I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that River is fishy and does fishy things. Violet, however, knows about these fishy things. She comments several times that she is not sure what to think of River, and yet she falls in love with him. I was okay with their relationship up to a point--and I think that it would have been better had Violet not specifically thought about how she loved him, because in my mind, everything that was said and done was not enough for love, and I don't think I would have gotten there as quickly as her, though their chemistry is obvious. (And yeah, the summary says that this is all a part of River's manipulation, but Violet is a smart girl; she still sees this going on. Is it *that* inevitable?) At any rate, I do think that this is the kind of portrayal that will work for other readers, even if it didn't work for me.
4. (+) Creepy Factor - The horror in this story... Well, April Genevieve Tucholke does not waste any time before delving into the story and heightening the creepy factor. That mention of cemeteries? Nothing in comparison to what happens. And I love that there are twists in this not only due to the paranormal factors.
5. (--) The Villain - The portrayal of the villain offended me. At least his background, and his motivations for doing what he did. They seemed not only flat, but in the face of everything else, which was well done, this happened? (I'm trying not to spoil it for you all.) Up until I read the last 1/4th with him in it, I would have rated this book 4 stars (1 less because of the romance). I still haven't decided how much I would rate it now. But I also get the feeling that this might not bother a lot of other readers.
6. (+) Side Characters - The writing is so strong and fluid that even if I don't necessarily understand the motivations for the side characters, I can picture all of them clearly. How they look and how they act and maybe even what their facial expressions are like when they deliver their lines. (I like the hint, too, of there being something else that drives every character and that Tucholke wasn't afraid to show her characters' flaws.) And just so you know, I'm not generally a visual reader. This writing though...
7. (+) Paranormal Parts - The paranormal takes a back stage in the horror and the setting and familial drama. I like that it was offered as an explanation for some things, and though its exact mechanisms are not as developed as other things, it fits well with the Gothic horror elements.
8. (+) The Writing - The synopsis promises gorgeous writing, and so this book delivers. Yes. Every last bit of it. It's not too much purple prose, though it is fluid and poetic. Here's an example from p. 81: "He kissed me. My lips met his and I just. Stopped. Thinking. I didn't think about the fact that River was still a stranger. I didn't think about the tunnel, or Jack, or the Devil, or anything. My lips melted into my heart, which melted into my legs, which melted into the earth beneath me. / Afterward, River walked me home in the moonlight. Neither of us talked. / And everything was damn near perfect."
9. (+) The Pacing - The pacing was done fairly well throughout the book. I mostly had issues with the beginning and end; first chapter is a bit slow, and toward the end, I started to get antsy, wondering when everything would be all well and good. Other than that, steady.
10. (+) The Cover - This cover is quite possibly the most gorgeous cover I have seen. I love the font choice and size. I love the colors. I love the Gothic element. I love the couple and how they're close to a cliff and the symbolism in that. I love the rushing waves and the black and white fog and just everything. Everything is a win there.
Readers looking for superb writing, well-established Gothic horror, unforgettable settings/settings & family history that play a role in the plot, and an unusually quirky protagonist will enjoy this debut from a truly talented author.
PS - If you're interested in this book, Jen at YA Romantics is giving away a finished copy!