Missing Teens and Lesbian Ghostbusters: A Review of The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould
Hey there Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life, or welcome if you are new. I’m so glad you decided to join me today because I have a great book review for ya this week.
Please welcome to the stage The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould! The Dead and the Dark is a new release and it’s Gould’s debut novel. Let me tell ya, this debut is simply amazing. It perfectly set the mood for spooky season.
I’m not kidding. The week this book released, I basically began spooky season. It may still have been August when that happened, but I broke out the apple cider, all the horror movies and novels were consumed, and the general fall/Halloween vibes began. I might as well start walking around with a pumpkin on the my head beginning August 1st because fall is the only thing I care about at this point.
I didn’t choose the spooky/fall life; it chose me. Enough of my rambling though, let’s get to the review!
As always, a spoiler alert is in order. The Dead and the Dark also requires a trigger/content warning. And this warning comes straight from the book itself. I love that. Trigger warnings are something extremely important and should be included in books. This is the first novel I’ve seen that actually includes one. So straight from the pages of The Dead and the Dark please be aware of the following:
Some of the thematic material in The Dead and the Dark involves child death and endangerment, violence including strangulations and drowning, and homophobia and homophobic slurs.
Please make including trigger warnings a norm across all of publishing! Trigger and content warnings are extremely important. I’ve read so many books, especially recently, that have heavy topics and themes that can really mess people up if they don’t know it’s coming. All the publishers, editors, and every other person in the publishing field out there reading this, please include trigger and content warnings at the start of your books!
Synopsis time. This time I promise we’re actually getting to the review.
The Dead and the Dark follows two teenaged girls in the small town of Snakebite, Oregon. Logan Ortiz-Woodley is the daughter of TV’s most famous ghost hunters: Alejo and Brandon Ortiz-Woodley. Alejo and Brandon are Snakebite natives who moved out of the small, close-minded town 13-years prior to the events of the story. But now, strange things are happening in Snakebite. Teens are going missing, some of them are ending up dead, the weather is out of whack, and all of this seemingly coincides with the return of the Ortiz-Woodley family.
Unlike Logan, Ashley Barton has lived her whole life in Snakebite. Her mom pretty much owns the town, she’s always felt safe when out and about, and she basically can do whatever she wants around Snakebite. That is until her boyfriend goes missing. He is actually the first teen to disappear, and while it is highly likely that he is in fact dead, Ashley holds out hope that he will return one day. Despite the fact that he’s been missing over six months, Ashley has felt his presence with her everywhere she goes, almost as if he is leading her to something or possibly even someone.
Soon one thing becomes clear, Snakebite has a dark history and secrets that need to see the light of day. This is where our two protagonists decide to team up. Logan wants to throw suspicion off of her family, and Ashley wants to find her boyfriend. The two don’t know if they can truly trust the other, but they do know that they are the only ones who can figure out what exactly Snakebite is hiding.
Oh yes. We got a small town mystery with spooky elements. We have a high-stakes mystery to solve. We have ghostbusters. We have LGBTQIA+ representation. And we have some great humor in this book too.
Logan is the most witty, sarcastic character I have seen this year. I love her. She has some great style, a bad bitch attitude, and 10-out-of-10 comebacks. She’s a bit of a hot head who thinks before she acts, but she is, a 110% without a doubt, my new alter-ego. I also love that she’s basically the surprised Pikachu face half the time. Someone drops shocking news on her? Surprised Pikachu face. Finds a new clue brought forth by the supernatural? Surprised Pikachu face. Someone is homophobic towards her and her dads? Will fight you.
Yeah, Logan has two modes. Surprised Pikachu face or fighting. There isn’t much of any middle ground with her. Which I guess is ok. It goes to prove that she can be impulsive, hot-headed woman, but an incredibly loyal friend and daughter. When she says she’ll fight for you, she truly means it.
Now, Logan doesn’t have much of a character arc when it comes to her personality. No maturing for her in that sense. She will forever have only two modes. That’s okay though, she has a character arc that involves her relationship with one of her dads. I won’t spoil that growth because it is incredibly sweet and you should all read it for yourselves. Back to my original sentence though. Logan doesn’t have much of a character arc when it comes to her personality, because Ashley gets that treatment.
Ashley and Logan work as a great pair of foils. Where Logan is the extroverted, wild child, Ashley is the introverted, Homecoming Queen type. Ashley feels trapped in Snakebite. The town expects her to take over her mother’s mantel when the day comes; it’s pretty much expected that she’ll marry, have two kids and a Golden Retriever, and never leave town. If I was in Ashley’s shoes, I would be chomping at the bit to get out. This poor girl is in a teeny-tiny glass box, and feels like she’s never had the chance to find herself or be open about her sexuality. I feel for her. I’ve watched dear friends of mine go through the same situation, and I just want to give her a big hug and tell her it’ll be ok.
Out of the two, Ashley has the better character arc in my opinion. With the help of Logan, Ashley grows from the timid young woman she is at the start of the novel to someone who is not scared of simply being herself by the end. Love that for her. Love that she finds a support system and is on the path of living her truest, fullest life by the end of the novel.
What I do not love about this book is the pacing. The timeline is all over the place. When the book opens, it is stated that six months have passed since the first disappearance and Brandon Ortiz-Woodley’s arrival in Snakebite. Great. Awesome. Good to know. But as the chapters continue, there are a lot of random time skips that happen after major events. Either Ashley or Logan will learn something, and then the two won’t speak or see with each other for multiple weeks. Or after a discovery, nothing will happen for a month. Like, how long does this mystery take to solve? For all I know, the events of this book may take place over a full year or two.
The timeline just feels odd to me. I think mainly because it’s not clear of how long everything takes. Nine times out of ten, the time skips don’t offer anything to the plot. They aren’t necessary, and while I don’t mind a mystery taking place over a longer period of time, the mystery in The Dead and the Dark feels elongated to an extreme.
Speaking of the mystery though, I am a fan. I love that it is based in the supernatural, but there is still a human threat. As Hannah Montana once said, “you get the best of both worlds.” Courtney Gould had me jumping back and forth between who I thought the killer was. There were just too many good options as to who it could be. Every suspect had multiple reasons as to why he, she or they could be the villain. It was great fun trying to solve this mystery. A truly great read to kick off spooky season.
And with that, I must bid you all adieu. I’ll see you all again next week with another new review to get everyone ready for spooky season. Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and read some good books for me.