This taut, psychologically realistic murder mystery knits trauma, danger, tragedy and hope into one cohesive tale.
In a horrifying opening scene, Emily watches her father return from the forest carrying what looks like an injured deer but turns out to be a girl—dead. Dad’s having a flashback to the military event that gave him PTSD. As a soldier, he’d accidentally killed a civilian; did he kill this girl, Ashlee, as well? Ashlee’s boyfriend, Damon, awakens hung over the next morning, confused that Ashlee’s not in his bed. They’d been in Darkwood the night before with his mates, playing the Game. Ashlee gave Damon hallucinogenic drugs, and he can’t remember how the night—or the Game—ended. Damon and Emily alternate chapters in distinct first-person voices. Damon’s traumatized by Ashlee’s murder and his father’s military death; Emily’s devastated that her sometimes-violent yet “scared of everything” father—possibly innocent—is pleading guilty to manslaughter. Darkwood’s thick forest, high peak and leftover war bunker make a vivid setting. Readers will be riveted by slow, potent reveals about the rough nature of the Game, Ashlee’s insistence on danger and adrenaline, and what happened that night. The answers hurt, but they feel right and they make sense. A sprout of hope at the end is fragile and unforced.
A gripping, heartbreaking, emotionally substantial look at war wounds and the allure of danger. (Mystery. 14 & up)