Book review: Sawkill Girls, by Claire Legrand

Legrand, Claire. Sawkill Girls. Katherine Tegen Books. 2018. $17.99. 447p. HC. 9780062696601.

Sawkill Girls starts off as many YA horror novels do: describing the characters that a reader can only assume awful things are going to happen to. Where many YA novels precede this roll call with a description of how normal and perfect a town these characters find themselves — Sawkill does not begin that way. The island of Sawkill is a place where awful people go about their lovely lives with little regard for one another, and there is always the feeling that one should be watching their back.

We first meet Zoey, a transplant from another place — who sees the horror of Sawkill for what it is and is very vocal about how these citizens have blood on their hands and no desire to do a thing about it. For years and years, girls have gone missing on Sawkill, but Zoey watched with a wary suspicion from afar — until her best friend went missing. In this grief and anger, Zoey meets another Sawkill newcomer, Marion.

Marion is the plain-faced guardian of her family, made so by the recent sudden death of her father. Marion goes out if her way to protect her fragile mother and naive sister. When her sister is the next to go missing, she joins Zoey in her hunt to figure out the mystery of Sawkill. Marion finds herself having a harder time focusing on unraveling the darkness in Sawkill when she finds herself preoccupied with a still, striking beauty named Val.

Val is Sawkill royalty. She knows the cues of her existence, and the ways in which she can always get what she wants. She is a stunning beauty that moves throughout Sawkill without a worry that the tide could turn on her. Val continues the false beauty and manners that have always made up her family and the women in it; she is her mother’s daughter through and through. Val lives with great darkness shadowing her every move and still manages to thrive: that is, until she meets Marion.

For readers looking for an engrossing, spooky fall read: this is that. I found myself considering the monsters of Sawkill long after I finished the book: the intentional, Big Bad monsters and the more sinister ones lying beneath the surface. This is a horror novel that will cause you to think and consider, all the while shivering. Aside from it being a great horror novel, it is a gay horror novel. This is a story about girls loving girls: platonically, romantically, and sexually. Legrand does an excellent job of writing a love letter to the female friendships that stand the test of time, but also the female romances that can spark a fire. As an LGTQIA+ reader, I was happy to find myself not pitting women against each other for the sake of plot, but instead rooting for fierce women to work together to ward off both monsters and men.

Rachel R. Newlin, MLIS
Cataloging Librarian, Schaumburg Township District Library

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