Mini-Review | Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Reviewer: Christina
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Age Group: YA/Adult (WARNING: This book has content that might not be suitable for younger readers.)
Genres: Horror, Graphic novel
Pages: 208 (Hardcover)
Format/Source: Hardcover, Borrowed from library
Find the Book: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | or look for it at your local indie!

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Discover a terrifying world in the woods in this collection of five hauntingly beautiful graphic stories that includes the online webcomic sensation “His Face All Red,” in print for the first time.

Journey through the woods in this sinister, compellingly spooky collection that features four brand-new stories and one phenomenally popular tale in print for the first time. These are fairy tales gone seriously wrong, where you can travel to “Our Neighbor’s House”–though coming back might be a problem. Or find yourself a young bride in a house that holds a terrible secret in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold.” You might try to figure out what is haunting “My Friend Janna,” or discover that your brother’s fiancee may not be what she seems in “The Nesting Place.” And of course you must revisit the horror of “His Face All Red,” the breakout webcomic hit that has been gorgeously translated to the printed page.

(NOTE: I’m doing a smaller review of this because it’s in graphic-novel format and I can’t do as much literary analysis of it. That said, it still TOTALLY deserves your attention, as shown by my rating and the fangirly review below.)

How do I even begin? I don’t read graphic novels all that often, and I’ve certainly never come across a collection of graphic short stories. And I’m not really that much of a horror fan, because I’m terrified of anything and everything, and I’m sort of squeamish. So at first glance, Through the Woods is not a Christina book. At all.

Then suddenly I saw this beautiful sample of it online and IT WAS A CHRISTINA BOOK. There was no doubt about it. And the rest of the book completely lived up to my through-the-roof expectations.

The art was gorgeous. Not a line was out of place, and the sparse, sketch-like renderings of characters and settings was perfectly spooky. I loved how different and personality-revealing the faces of each of the characters were – even the faces of sisters and family members were related but distinct. Even the handwritten text fit the book’s feel – skeletal letters filling up a hollow, ghost-filled page. The panel placement was amazing and nicely distributed, too, letting letters fall down and up and in all directions while having the pictures flow perfectly. The whole book felt organic – no, more than organic. The book itself was alive, I swear.

I especially loved the color schemes. Carroll makes brilliant use of limited color palettes in each story to bring out a particular mood. For example, in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”, vibrant shades of blue and yellow show the decadence of the setting, but they contrast with stark red and white panels that reveal the darker undertones of the story. This kind of awesomeness follows in all of the other stories, too.

The stories themselves were spectacular and varied. They read almost like the best of the original Grimm fairy tales – creepy and beautiful and wondrous, with an on-edge feeling like sitting too close to a campfire at night. (As a side note, I’m more than slightly jealous that Emily Carroll can be both a great writer and artist. WHY.) My favorite was probably “The Nesting Place”. Its sickly-sweet, gray-toned setup, combined with its visceral, horrifying reveal and knife-in-your-gut ending, packed a huge punch in my mind and left me thinking about it for hours.

Basically, every page of Through the Woods said, “I know what you’re afraid of” and let every bit of that seep into my head.

“What about characters, Christina?” you ask. “You usually obsess over character development, but there can’t have been a lot of that in a short story collection. How’d you end up enjoying that?” And that’s a totally valid point. I can’t say much about the characters, since I only got to know each one for a short time in the frame of their story, but one thing that I really wanted to point out was that almost all of them centered around girls and women. Really dynamic and varied and strong girls and women. And I feel like using horror to empower women is at once fascinating and strange – thankfully, Carroll did it so well that I had no cause for complaint. I’d be really interested in seeing more of that in horror, and it might even induce me to step further into the genre (which I’ve avoided until now because I am a coward).

Like I noted above, it’s hard to analyze a book like this. But don’t let the brevity of this review fool you – I LOVED. THIS BOOK. To sum it all up, my reaction throughout the entire book was this:

And I absolutely-flipping-adored it.

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