Ten years after the death of her older sister, Clare, Cally Woods gets accepted at St. Bede’s Academy, a boarding school in the Sierra region of California. It’s a big deal for Cally: her father is dead, her mother is a mostly absent drunk and Cally’s been offered a full-ride scholarship to St. Bede’s because of what happened to her sister. Seems that as a kid, Clare had visited St. Bede’s with a friend whose mother taught there and “on the third night of her visit, she and her friend had vanished from their beds. Their bodies were never found.” That’s pretty much the premise of McCormick Templeman’s debut novel, The Little Woods.
There’s a lot going on in this novel, making it difficult to decide whether or not it’s a straight up mystery. (There are definitely some mystery elements; Cally is there, after all, to figure out exactly what happened to her sister. Although as the police never have it’s ridiculous to think she’ll be able to solve the whodunit on her own. Still.) Is it a coming of age stor? (It’s certainly got all the bells and whistles: mean girls and first love.) It’s peopled with a wide variety of teenage characters: the beautiful jock (“he was black with vaguely Asian features, bright eyes and the most incredible body I’d ever seen); the student body president (whom Cally catches going through her underwear drawer) and Jack (“one of those boys who make you dizzy when you look at them). You’ll recognize all the players well enough.
Cally finds it relatively easy to infiltrate the inner-circle and soon enough learns that St. Bede’s is a hot-bed of rumours and disappearances. In fact, she’s moved into the room of a girl who disappeared only a few months ago. There’s also talk about the “little woods.” Hunky Alex explains at a party:
“All due respect, but everyone knows these woods are straight-up haunted. We do this walk all the time, and there’s always some scary fucking noise that can’t be explained. Ask anyone.
I’ll tell you what we’re hearing…We’re hearing the lost girls.”
It is at this party that Cally discovers that her sister’s death is legend: “The woods are haunted. These two little girls were murdered out there….Seriously, you guys. They wandered off into the woods or whatever, but they were totally murdered.”
Although Cally doesn’t expose her connection to Clare, she watches and listens for any clue that will help her uncover the truth.
As far as mysteries go, The Little Woods is decent enough. The problem I had with it is that the story is bogged down by so many other things – side-plots and intrigues, that it was hard to keep the whole convoluted story straight. Doesn’t mean avid YA readers won’t eat it up, though.