Night smothered the last crimson streak of sunlight. I had no lantern. At the cemetery’s edge, the trees jabbed the heavens. The bats winged from their roots in the forest, their bodies taking flight like charred bits of paper.
I didn’t go home.
I spread myself flat on top of a grave, my back to the earth while the night swam. The dirt beneath me was chilled, but I scarcely felt it. I didn’t want to feel anything.
There’d be no forgiveness, no mending of broken threads. Such things couldn’t be restitched.
Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.
These are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a tiny farming community that borders on a commune in the Ozarks of Missouri. Sixteen year old Ivy Templeton’s family has lived in Rowan’s Glen for centuries and Ivy adores it. It’s a very old-fashioned way to live with limited electricity, radios instead of cell phones, long skirts and long skirts, and chocked full of superstition and traditions. The teens and adults in surrounding communities whisper words such as cult, backwards, and inbred but Ivy and her friends don’t care; they have each other and they have their past to root them in their future.
Ivy’s best friend is also her cousin, Heather. They share everything, all their secrets-at least that’s what Ivy thought. They start to argue as Ivy realizes just how little she knows about Heather and soon they’re barely speaking. Then Heather goes missing after the May Queen celebration, in a very similar way that another teen girl did twenty-five years earlier. Ivy discovers that her beloved Rowan’s Glen has secrets darker than the shadows cast by the woods that surround them, and that discovering those secrets may have cost Heather her life.
The May Queen Murders is, at its very heart, a murder mystery. But there are a lot of interweaving themes running through it: coming of age, family secrets, first love, and superstition. Sarah Jude packs a lot into a smaller sized book and it works in some ways and in others, not so much. I really really wanted to love this book. Jude is a (somewhat) local author, the theme of the book is one that feeds into my interests, and the cover art is to die for. Sarah herself is engaging, funny, and clearly passionate about her writing. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. Before you read that as “this book was terrible” it wasn’t at all! It was good, possibly very good, but I built it up in my head a lot, mostly due to the anticipation of having to wait for it to come in at the library. I took it as a good sign that I was third of three holds on it and almost didn’t make my week three deadline because I had to wait for it.
The real problem for me came in two parts: the relationship between Heather and Ivy and the resolution. This book plays heavily the belief that Heather and Ivy were closer than sisters and loved each other more than anyone else in the world. If this was true, I didn’t see much sign of it. The little bit of time that Heather appears in the book before disappearing is spent arguing with Ivy over having her freedom and her secrets and focuses on Ivy’s despair that she lost her most important person in the world. There seemed to be more connection between Ivy and her other best friend, Rook, than there was between her and Heather. If there had been more background set up to showcase the close relationship between the cousins, this would have helped me connect better with the loss between the two but it just wasn’t there for me. I was more curious about the other relationships between minor background characters than I was the two that were leading the story.
The other part of the problem was the resolution. You’re given a lot of information in a short period of time about both present and past and you’re expected to be able to sort it in your head before the ending comes at you with a “WHAM! This is how it happened!” Probably because I was already busy trying to believe that Heather and Ivy were so close, I wasn’t able to get from point A to point B as easily as the book thinks I should have. When the resolution is revealed, I did have my “hmmm..okay, I can see how this would end this way” moment, but as soon as I came to terms with one ending, it became like an infomercial. “But wait! You get not only one villain, you get two! Just kidding, there’s actually THIS many!” The ending was too convoluted to be believable to me. Had I had more set up earlier in the book to hint at the ending I received, I really think I would have enjoyed it more. Alas, there’s too little relationship building and too much ending for me to add this to my list of loves.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, I still would. As appears to be the theme this month, definitely to high schoolers or older as there is mature content, language, and a little drug use. I probably shot myself in the foot before this point, but I don’t want anyone to walk away from this post thinking that this is a terrible book. It’s really not, it just doesn’t live up to its own hype.
Next week I will be back with The Fall by Bethany Griffin. It’s a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The House of Usher and I’m far enough into it to be curious if it will stay true to the original but not far enough in to wax poetic about it yet. I guess we will see next week how it suited me.