As part of Suzy Vadori’s Blog tour with YA Bound, I offer this review of her new book The West Wood.
Boarding school, with its assorted collection of wealthy kids, has the same tensions as any high school, and Vadori deftly describes the daily dilemmas. You can feel why the main character Courtney wants out of there and sympathize with her frustration when her father insists she finish the year. Under her pressure, he agrees that she can go to the local school the next year if she makes an effort to understand what is special about this school.
Courtney makes a list of things she can do to prove she tried, including becoming captain of the swim team. While she schemes to make this happen, she takes a dare to race into the forbidden west wood. Stumbling over an indentation in the ground, she finds a buried key, but there is no clue what it opens.
Although she is not punished for entering the forbidden area, the craziest teacher at the school begins to press her to tell all she knows. Courtney realizes there are mysteries she has not imagined. When her sister gives her a map that their father had stolen from this teacher when he attended the school, the depth and extent of the mysteries begin to appear.
Along with hidden spaces and unusual creatures, the map shows a special well in the west wood. She goes to it and makes a wish. While the wish seems to help her list of goals, it also drives her. She is not herself as the wish becomes more important than anything else. Complications abound.
In this work, Vadori succeeds in writing the students so that they are believable, vivid and interesting. We can feel Courtney’s frustrations. The teachers are more caricatures than real people, but are portrayed the way a teen might see them. This strengthens the story for young adults, though limits the potential to cross over to an adult audience.
The ending comes quickly with a solution around the corner but not yet in sight. While this is what real life is often like, the finale is more like a snap of the fingers than a satisfying tying up of loose ends.
All in all, the characters are worth meeting, and the premise works. I give it 4 stars.