This month Emily and Mary read Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, a novel full of twists, turns, demons, and powerful girls.
Emily: Hello, I am here.
Mary: We are BACK after a hiatus with more YA content for you! We recently read Claire Legrand's Sawkill Girls, a story about a strange town, a family bound to a demon (?), and the young girls who try to save everyone.
The book follows Marion, a girl who moves to Sawkill Rock with her family, Val, a girl who is part of a matrilineal line bound to servitude of a weird evil entity, and Zoey, the daughter of the sheriff who has strange powers and wants to avenge the death of her best friend. Together, Zoey and Marion try to figure out what's up on the island, why so many girls go missing, and they eventually have to team up with Val to solve the mystery!
How would you categorize this book? What genre is it? Supernatural? Mystery?
Emily: It's not really a mystery. Because we know who's doing it from the beginning.
Supernatural thriller maybe.
Mary: That's true. I think supernatural thriller is a good description. There are definitely a lot of thrills.
I read this book really fast, and the entire time I found it kind of predictable. There were some nice twists and turns, but it wasn't necessarily...surprising. Predictability isn't a bad thing, though. This felt like a comfort read to me. What were your general thoughts?
Emily: So I don't think the "what happens next" is the main point here. I think this is a parable about the patriarchy and the way women are controlled in our society.
Mary: Yes, yes! Say more about that. I totally agree.
Emily: It's a lot to unpack, and I think that's what the real reveal is as the story goes on. Because at first, we're introduced to this family that seems to be controlled by powerful women.
Mary: I guess we should say HEY, THERE ARE SPOILERS!
Emily: Val's family is a matriarchy. The family name/lineage is passed through the women.
Mary: And the dads don't matter at all.
Emily: And they also seem to be really strong women with a lot of power in the community
But then we quickly realize that their power is an illusion, and they are basically slaves to this demon who feeds off of young girls and forces these women in this family to sleep with him. And raise more girls for him to control. It's pretty dark.
Mary: Literally feeds off of young girls he kills, but also drains energy and life from the Mortimer women.
Emily: But that's not the only way we see women being controlled. We also have Zoey's father, who is a part of a secret society of men.
Mary: Which was WILD. I did not see the secret society coming for some reason.
Emily: They know there are girls who have the power to fight these demons, and they feel like they need to wield that power because girls can't control it themselves.
Mary: And the only way they have to deal with these demons is to send the girls in there and be like, IDK guess you're all gonna die.
Emily: Right. It's insane because they are actually powerless in this situation, but they somehow are in charge anyway because men.
Mary: Yes, exactly! I was actually reading some Goodreads reviews of this book earlier and saw comments about how the book was too "man-hating," but that's a huge part of the plot! The patriarchy is bad and hurts everyone, even men!
Emily: Also, like, what about Grayson?
Mary: Grayson is interesting. He's Zoey's best friend and ex-boyfriend, and he is absolutely devoted to her. It felt good to see Grayson exist because he reminds me of people I know in real life--men who are aware that women are kind of sick of their crap and are aware of things like mansplaining and careful not to do stuff like that. Grayson is an angel BB and I love him.
Emily: At one point Grayson is even like, "If I start mansplaining, please stop me."
Mary: Yes! "I feel like an asshole professor." A good scene.
Emily: While we're talking about Grayson, should we just unpack his relationship with Zoey?
This book is doing a lot with sexuality as well.
Mary: Grayson’s entire dynamic with Zoey is interesting to me. A lot of the background of the novel focuses on when Zoey and Grayson had sex and Zoey realized she was asexual. I've never really seen asexuality explored in a book (although I'm sure those books are out there). The closest I've gotten is Chip Zdarsky's run on Jughead, where Jughead is asexual but is just very chill about it. He's not looking for a relationship so it's not painted as an issue. But in Sawkill Girls, Zoey and Grayson actually want to have a relationship, and at the end of the novel we see them working out what that means in light of Zoey's sexuality.
Emily:I feel like this is good to see, because we don't see many asexual relationships in pop culture.
And this book deals with a lot of the misconceptions.
Emily: Like Zoey thinking she's "broken."
Mary: But then being reassured, and realizing she's not.
Emily:Or the misconception that asexuality means that you can't love someone.
Mary:There are more components to a relationship than sex, and Grayson and Zoey have to work through that. Sex is important, but it looks different for everyone! It's good to see asexuality explained in a way that isn't too alienating. I think Zoey comes to realize at the end that she's valid and desired and important.
Emily: We also have lesbian characters as well.
Mary: Yes, yes, yes!
Marion and Val develop a relationship.
And there is a full blown sex scene for a YA novel, I'd say.
I was reading it at the office and it was a steamy little scene.
Emily: Yeah, but it was tasteful haha
Mary: But my standard for steamy is low.
It was definitely tasteful, not fetishized or anything.
What did you think about the tension between Marion and Val? Both sexually, and as the novel went on, good vs evil wise?
Emily:These two characters to me read like YA stereotypes in a lot of ways.
Zoey was a little more nuanced.
Mary: Yes, definitely.
Emily: But Marion was the plain jane new girl who was all why would anyone like me i'm pudgy and normal looking and just sort of ok at everything and my sister is the better one
And Val is the "queen bee" -- it even says that on the book jacket.
She's pretty and rich.
Mary: Yes, and Marion doesn't know what Val sees in her, and Val has self esteem issues of her own.
Mary: It's definitely tropes we've seen before--which is one of the reasons I felt it was predictable.
Part of that familiarity was nice to me. I knew what was coming and that felt good.
But it doesn't make for compelling writing, really.
Emily: Yeah I felt like the premise was an interesting idea, but it would have been nice if there had been more interesting characters inhabiting this world.
Mary:I was genuinely interested in the demon, and how all the lore around Sawkill Rock worked.
I'm not sure I was completely satisfied with the explanations, though
I do love that this had sci-fi elements.
And it almost became, like, Stranger Things towards the end.
Mary: Definitely! Marion even went into the Upside Down, essentially.
Emily: Yes, it was just called something different.
I can't remember what please fill in the blanks.
It was holes in space time it seemed like.
Where the demons live I guess? lol
Emily:Yeah but I thought there was a name for the other place.
Mary: I'm not sure...this is one of those books that pretty much leaves your mind immediately.
In my opinion.
It was enjoyable to read, but I'm not going to remember it in six months.
Emily: Yeah hard to say because I just finished reading it.
I did want it to be scarier.
It was dark, but never scary.
I wonder why?
Mary: Yes, the abuse was disturbing to me, and I felt genuinely creeped out by the demon ripping girls apart and shapeshifting into various forms, but I never felt the horror of it all. It was creepy, but never true horror.
It's possible that Legrand was going for a mood more than abject horror? I'm not sure.
Emily:I don't know but there were DOPPELGANGERS in this.
That should have been scary.
Mary: It should have! For me, especially in the last half of the novel, there was just SO MUCH stuff. I didn't have time to feel scared.
Mary: The plot moves quickly once it gets going--they've got to investigate the demon, trick him, trap him, etc. etc. all while avoiding the dumbo men's group with the sheriff, and Val's mom.
Lots and lots of people die.
There was a lot of murder in this book, but none of it felt particularly significant to me.
Because did we really know the characters who died?
Emily:Yeah, like, especially because one of the major deaths is Marion's sister.
Mary: Which is sad, but I also didn't know her sister as a character.
Emily: And she says she's upset about it, but I don't feel like there's ever a moment where she grieves the loss of her sister.
It goes from "oh she's missing" to "she's probably dead."
Mary: No, definitely not, which is weird and makes her seem a liiiiittle bit like a sociopath?
Emily:I know she's got demons to deal with but... like, losing my brother was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
And she seemed to be falling apart over the loss of her dad.
So this seemed like a strange pivot for both her and her mother.
Mary:Maybe she was in shock, but I feel like since it's a first person novel we should have seen her emotions a bit more.
Mary: That would've really taken the novel to the next level for me, I think.
Emily: The novel starts with grief.
Because the first perspective we see is Marion and she's talking about how her father's death has affected her family.
So... it sort of set the expectation for how realistically we were going to react to losing loved ones.
Mary: Definitely, definitely. I think we had to start the novel with grief, and that makes sense. It makes sense as a reason they're moving to Sawkill Island.
But that being said, you're absolutely right that we needed more of that grief when Marion's sister died.
It seems disproportionate, and even had me wondering a little, so did you not like your sister? Or are you in shock? or what's going on here?
Emily:And also like...
I know she had to work with Val or whatever.
I don't care how much a demon forced you to do it. You still killed my sister.
Mary: Yes, definitely. I wouldn't forgive that so easily.
Emily: Right. I would probably be like, "Look, I get that you were being manipulated and controlled. But at the end of the day, my sister is dead, and that's kind of on you, so maybe we should just never talk to each other."
But that's just me.
Mary: Yeah, I'd want to respectfully avoid one another.
Do you know if this is going to be a series? There seemed to be the possibility for more.
Emily:I hope not because I'm not really in for series.
Mary: Me either. I'm getting tired of YA series, honestly.
They are...a lot.
Emily: So tired.
Look, we can't all be Harry Potter.
But I guess I could see how if there are other demons out there... then...
Mary: Yes, and they're a team now!
Emily: Yeah so now they're going to go demon fighting across the globe?
Mary: Yeah, they're definitely taking their demon hunting show on the road.
I will say that this was a recommendation from MyTBR for me, as a little plug for them! It was a good pick, even if it turned out not being my cup of tea.
Emily: This is, by all means, my cup of tea just based on the premise.
I think it could have been executed better. But supernatural dark ya with awesome queer teens is very much a yes from me.
Mary: Me too!
Emily:I was kind of in the middle on this one though.
Mary: I wanted to like it.
Emily: The writing was pretty good for the most part. I think a lot of it for me is just, as mentioned earlier,, the character development.
Mary: Yes, for sure.
Emily: And developing the lore a bit more.
And making it scarier.
Those are my workshop notes
Mary: But if you want a fast paced read and are willing to overlook some shoddy character development, this is for youuuu.
The atmosphere is good.
And it is creepy.
Emily: Yeah, I'd definitely say give it a read.
Mary: Me too!
Emily:I don't feel like it was time wasted. Solid three stars from me.
Mary:Definitely not. I gave it three stars, too! Thanks for chatting about this book! I liked it.
Emily:Yayayay thank you!
So glad YA Book Club is back in business
Mary: Me too! I love a little YA novel.
Emily:I am so ready. See you guys for The Hazel Wood at the beginning of August! ❤
By you guys I mean THE FANZ
August’s book will be The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert! Read along with us and let us know what you think!