Reading The Little Woods felt like watching a battle between the good and the bad. There is so much potential in this story, but sadly the poor execution is impossible to ignore.
The story itself was actually quite good. Cally goes off to St. Bedes boarding school. She gets a scholarship because 10 years ago her sister mysteriously disappeared while visiting the school. According the police, her sister died in a fire but since they never found the bodies Cally has always been skeptical. St. Bedes is a creepy boarding school bordered by a spooky forest known as "The Little Woods." When Cally learns that another student went missing right before she arrived, she begins investigating. As she investigates the disappearance, she can't help but wonder how it's connection to her sister's death. The pacing was nice, slowly building a believable mystery, with tension and clues scattered throughout the novel.
But the writing and characterization is where this book fell apart. By the 15% mark of my e-galley there were already 8 people who had been described as abnormally beautiful (or alarmingly beautiful or disconcertingly beautiful, you get the gist). At that point I remained hopeful, thinking maybe there was a supernatural reason for their beauty. Nope. Apparently the students at St. Bedes are as attractive as they are intelligent.
The overdescription was painful to read. I know they tell you creative writing classes to use all your scenses. But honestly, who smells everyone they meet? When you're using scent or taste it should feel natural, not intrusive. Here's an example of the purple prose.
"Up close, he was ridiculously toothsome, and he smelled so good--like fresh cut grass mixed with the mating musk of some exotic ungulate--it made my face ache."I had to google "ungulate" and if you're wondering it means "having hoofs" which just makes the whole sentences even stranger. I'm sorry, the mating musk of horses and goats doesn't do anything for me. Another example of the overdescription:
"She was black with a cherubic face and a statuesque body. She seemed to be all curves and her her hair poofed away from her head in a magnificent mass of black curls held back by an emerald green bands. Her eyes curved up at the corners like a cat's and her brows arched finely above them."You can make one character ridiculously good looking and you can over-describe them. But when you get eight overly longwinded description of characters you've taken away all the impact from your description. By the way, if you're wondering it the girl in the above passage smells like lilies.
The main character was underdeveloped and not very likable. She was rebellious without direction, dressed like a 12 year-old-boy, rude, judgemental, but the hottest boy in school starts flirting with her immediately when she arrives. There would be internal dialogue about how she's so socially awkward, then she'd make a clever joke to her crush. The pieces of Cally didn't add up to a character that made sense. So yes, she's a Mary Sue. She also offended me with a idiotic comment about anorexia.
"When I walked in, he was flirting with a skittish redhead who was clearly quarterbacking the St. Bede's anorexia squad."Thanks for perpetuating misinformation about a dangerous disease. As someone who was A. teased for being skinny her whole life and B. has had friends with eating disorders, this offhand comment shows an ignorance that someone should have caught before this book reached even ARC publication.
There are a lot more complaints I could list, from the main character communing with a heron to the brief unnecessary love triangle that helps solidify her Mary Sue status. Hidden beneath the over description, poor characterization and offensive comment there's actually a good little story. The pacing, atmosphere and even for the most part the plot was there. With a little bit more editing and some more time spent working on the main character this book would've been quite good. Unfortunately it's not.