“You know all those Japanese horror movies that came out not too long ago, like The Ring? Well, they’re all based on her story. She’s the Patient Zero for undead Japanese women with long hair and pale faces, so to speak.”
—The Girl From the Well, Rin Chupeco
If you’re at all squeamish, you’ll want to give Rin Chupeco’s The Girl From the Well a wide berth. If you prefer your narrators to be unequivocal White Hats, ditto. If seeing the aftermath of violence to women and children is a trigger, avoid. But. If you enjoy seeing child predators get their just desserts in Andrew Vachss’ Burke books, and if you liked the moral ambiguity of the title character in Anna Dressed in Blood—as well as the gruesome details of her rage-fueled violence—it may well be a good fit.
It’s narrated by Okiku, a famous figure from Japanese folklore. After bringing about the downfall of the men who caused her death, she’s traveled the world for centuries, destroying other child murderers. She isn’t always in complete control of herself—in addition to her unrelenting urge to kill, she compulsively counts objects in her vicinity—and all of that makes her perspective wonderfully original. Her voice has an odd rhythm, and it takes some time to get caught up in it, but considering her past and her mind frame, being a little bit off kilter feels right and adds to the disquiet of the book. As in Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away (which is also narrated by a ghost), while the plotting centers around a different character—in this case, a boy who is unknowingly carrying a powerful evil spirit around with him—it’s the ghostly narrator who is the star, and the ghostly narrator who does all of the real growing.
It’s not a perfect book. The dialogue is especially weak, stilted and unbelievable and infodumpy. For example, here’s Tark, the 15-year-old with the ghost problem, talking to his older cousin about why he’s antisocial:
“And every time, I black out. Every time I come to, I’m somewhere else from where I recall being. It’s happened frequently enough whenever I’m around that people started connecting me to all these weird incidents and staying away. Dad doesn’t believe that, naturally, being dear, old logical Dad.”
And the story is also written in the present tense, which isn’t a FLAW, but it’s always worth mentioning as it’s a deal breaker for so many readers.
So. To those of you who don’t mind putting up with some less-than-stellar dialogue, give it a try for Okiku’s voice, for the revenge and the cinematic ghost-y fun. To those of you who want to take the squick-free YA train to Japan, pick up Diana Rehn’s Tokyo Heist instead: It’s an art theft caper with nary a trigger warning in sight.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.