ARC Review: The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco


title:  The Girl from the Well

author:  Rin Chupeco

pages: 208

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-1402292194

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 2/5 [in the genre] or 4/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  People who enjoyed Asylum by Madeline Roux.  Fans of The Ring, The Grudge, and other Asian horror films.    

will i read this author again?:  Maybe.  Probably not without a good recommendation from a friend. 
will i continue the series?:  N/A 

My Ratings Explained

I am where dead children go.

Okiku is a lonely soul. She has wandered the world for centuries, freeing the spirits of the murdered-dead. Once a victim herself, she now takes the lives of killers with the vengeance they're due. But releasing innocent ghosts from their ethereal tethers does not bring Okiku peace. Still she drifts on.

Such is her existence, until she meets Tark. Evil writhes beneath the moody teen's skin, trapped by a series of intricate tattoos. While his neighbors fear him, Okiku knows the boy is not a monster. Tark needs to be freed from the malevolence that clings to him. There's just one problem: if the demon dies, so does its host.

take home message
An eerie take on the ghost that inspired The Ring.  This book offers some pretty narrative and supernatural intrigue, but ultimately feels disjointed and so different from the book promised by the cover blurb. 

the basics
I don't have strong feelings about this book.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  The view into Japanese traditional culture was my favorite part.  I think it spawned a dozen Wikipedia tabs.  Imagine reading The Ring from Samara's point of view.  Eerie, poignant, full of creepy dolls.  However, it's a disjointed book.  It feels like Chupeco thought, "Well, wouldn't it be cool to have this ancient Japanese ghost befriend a teenage boy?  Who happens to be possessed by an ancient demon linked to his mother's former life?"  And then wasn't really sure how to fit it all together.  The result is a little flimsy.  Is this a story about Okiku's revenge?  Yes, to begin with.  And then that's sort of forgotten.  Is it a story about Tark's demon?  Yes, but that doesn't become prominent until later.  Why are these characters connected, other than Okiku is strangely "drawn" to Tark?  Too many of the answers felt waved away.  And the most interesting character for me, Okiku, was left feeling more sidekick than force of her own.  What promised to be a thrilling book with horror-movie roots felt deflated.  Chupeco's solid writing just didn't have a structure to cling to.    

plot . 2/5
The beginning feels cut off from the end.  The Smiling Man plot, while cool for Okiku (the ghost girl who avenges murdered children), comes out of the blue for Tark.  Like Chupeco needed something bad to happen to Tark and cousin Callie to keep the plot moving.  The real problem, Tark's demon, doesn't hit full force until halfway through when we switch to Japan.  And where Okiku's revenge took precedence in part one, Tark's demon fills up part two.  I wondered the whole time--why do we need both of these plots?  Why is Okiku intrinsically linked to Tark?  Is there really just a boy possessed by a demon who also happens to be the object of fascination for a ghost, with no seeming reason?  The whole thing felt a little thin.  Most disappointing, the danger promised in the blurb is relatively absent.  That Tark might die if the demon is killed--it's a huge deal in the blurb and maybe a few sentences of dialogue in the book.  The result is a languid read without the promised horror-movie tension.  The writing is interesting and eerie, but ultimately not enough to bolster the flagging plot.  

concept . 3/5
I loved the idea of this book, which is probably why I was so disappointed to find it mediocre.  The inclusion of Japanese traditional culture, dolls and demons and spirits, is fascinating.  If you've watched any Japanese horror, imagine that kind of atmosphere--only with more focus on the traditional underpinnings.  The coolest part?  Okiku and her well are part of a real Japanese folk tale.  So it bothered me that Okiku's story is so secondary to Tark's.  She's  real figure with a rich history, but gets used as a prop for Tark's story, a sidekick, an add-on.  Tark and the demon possessing him are interesting, but then why add Okiku?  Why not just have any old ghost decide to help this boy exorcise himself?  I wanted more depth out of the story.  A stronger connection, a real reason why Okiku bound herself to Tark.  You get hints of it--she finds him and his cousin intriguing, human--but it's never played out.  

characters . 4/5
The characters are fairly well done.  Like I said, Okiku is my favorite.  She's the perfect mix of dark vengeance and otherworldly compassion.  Her fits of near-psychotic rage are fascinating.  What lacks are her motivations.  I sound like a broken record, but seriously--why is Tark so interesting to her?  Why this boy?  Why this spirit?  As for Tark, he's a little thin.  I found him...okay.  Average.  The archetypal boy with a crazy mother and a bad attitude.  He's balanced out by Callie, his cousin, a ray of sunshine with a motherly streak and a clever mind.  However, Tark's parents are pretty much shafted.  Yoko, his mother, is a hugely important figure, given that she is intricately involved in the demon plot.  However, we never really get to know her as more than the crazy mom with the dolls.  Tark's dad is barely-there and somehow totally fine with leaving his near-death son in the company of cousin and strangers in a rural mountain town.  The shrine maidens feel pretty interchangeable.  It was difficult to mourn their tragedies.  

style . 3/5
I actually liked the writing style.  With a more solid plot, I really could have liked this book.  Chupeco has a flair for atmosphere.  The descriptions are eerie and chilling, beautifully creepy.  Okiku's voice is the strongest.  Chupeco gives her an authentic old-sounding voice with a little world-weariness thrown in.  Plus, her meltdowns, appearing in the middle of calm, calculated passages, are severely creepy.  The most difficult bit was that Okiku often switches between third person (how her victims see her) and first (how she sees them).  It can be difficult to figure out what's going on.  Tark and Callie are a little shakier in the dialogue.  There were parts that felt very forced.   

mechanics . 3/5
Plot holes.   I could repeat the same questions, but you've seen them already.  I just never really connected the pieces together.  It feels like a story with bits taken out, so you're never quite sure where certain pieces are coming from.  Things feel random instead of purposeful and thought-out.  Then, you have the issue of pacing.  The blurb makes it seem like the fact that Tark will die if the demon does is a huge issues.  A major moral dilemma for Okiku, even.  Instead, it's more like: The shrine-maidens mention that the exorcism may not go well.  Almost three quarters of the way through the book.  It's hardly an issue at all, so much as a missed opportunity.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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