The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
A dead girl walks the streets.
She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.
And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.
Because the boy has a terrifying secret - one that would just kill to get out.
The Girl from the Well is based off a well-known ghost story, and even though it has already been adapted several times, Chupeco brings new depth for the story. It's creepy but not bone-chilling, more dedicated to the characters than the horror. Okiku is an incredibly complex character, a vengeful spirit as well as Tark's protector. I loved her.
Although I'm not the best judge, it felt like Chupeco did a lot of research into Japanese mythology/folklore, not just for Okiku's story but for the basics of Tark's story. The tie-in to Japanese legend is what really made the story; if Chupeco had simply invented a character who avenged the deaths of children the story might have become a melodramatic horror film pretty quickly. Instead, it gave me goosebumps.
I'll be honest, I'm not the most hardy when it comes to horror, but I do like to be scared by horror books. The Girl from the Well wasn't outright scary - I didn't feel the need to check over my shoulder every two seconds - but I think that part of that was due to Chupeco's development of Okiku's character. Unlike most horror characters, she has a depth and a human side to her that make it hard to be really scared of her. Unless you're a child-killer. Tark's demon was another whole story - she freaked me out. But I didn't really get the sense that she was threatening to me, the reader, which is what makes most horror books so...freaky. (I have to say, though, imaging a drowned ghost walking on the ceiling and gurgling...no, thanks).
The entire book is written in Okiku's voice, which fits her character perfectly. It's slightly threatening, and sad, and it has a tone of formality to it that suggests age. The other characters' voices, which come through in their dialogue, are equally well-written, though Okiku's is the most impressive. It sets the book's writing apart from a lot of books, as does the relationship between Tark and Okiku. If you're thinking romance, think again - although their relationship develops throughout the book and is both cute and slightly disturbing, there's no paranormal romance! Thank you, Rin Chupeco!
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