I am so excited to be a part of the blog tour for It Will Just be Us by Jo Kaplan, a dark, gothic horror book full of ghosts and ghouls. Thank you to Crooked Lane press for inviting me to be a part of the tour and sending me the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Now before we get into what I think about this bad boy, let’s check out that all important blurb to see what it’s all about: They say there’s a door in Wakefield that never opens… Sam Wakefield’s ancestral home, a decaying mansion built on the edge of a swamp, isn’t a place for children. Its labyrinthine halls, built by her mad ancestors, are filled with echoes of the past: ghosts and memories knotted together as one. In the presence of phantoms, it’s all Sam can do to disentangle past from present in her daily life. But when her pregnant sister Elizabeth moves in after a fight with her husband, something in the house shifts. Already navigating her tumultuous relationship with Elizabeth, Sam is even more unsettled by the appearance of a new ghost: a faceless boy who commits disturbing acts–threatening animals, terrorizing other children, and following Sam into the depths of the house wielding a knife. When it becomes clear the boy is connected to a locked, forgotten room, one which is never entered, Sam realizes this ghost is not like the others. This boy brings doom… As Elizabeth’s due date approaches, Sam must unravel the mysteries of Wakefield before her sister brings new life into a house marked by death. But as the faceless boy grows stronger, Sam will learn that some doors should stay closed–and some secrets are safer locked away forever.
Kaplan’s novel in many ways is a classic style Gothic novel and the influence of like Shirley Jackson is evident throughout. We have a haunted house full of ghosts, a family tragedy plagued by secrets and a history of violence and heartache, a mysterious locked door for a room no one can enter and a malevolent presence that threatens all who inhabit the crumbling expanse of Wakefield. On paper it ticks all the standard boxes for a gothic horror in all the right ways. But what I loved most about this book was the way it used these classic tropes and settings to explore the darkest parts of ourselves for the ghosts that haunt Wakefield are not actual spirits or souls trapped there, but are in fact echos, a simple replaying of past events, good or bad.
Through the death of the protagonists father, we explore mental illness and suicide and the effect of that loss on the remaining family members. The mother of the family finds herself not just haunted with the knowledge of her husband’s death, she does not just picture it in her mind as many haunted by such a tragedy would, she is instead able to relive it over and over again, watching her husband’s death replayed on an infinite time loop, unable to stop him or ask why as a memory is just that and nothing more.
This family are literally watching history repeat itself over and over, the good moments and the bad, from every generation of people who have stepped foot inside the mysterious house they inhabit. And this family history is a particularly black and bloody one to boot. Through these visual images of the past, the reader explores the fact that our pasts and even the pasts of those who came before us, can have a very real impact on our present and in turn our future. The protagonist is an archaeologist. She understands better than anyone the importance of these artefacts, these moments long gone. She attempts to catalogue and record them, for if we cannot understand the past in all of its raw horror, then how can we possibly learn from it? How can we grow from it? How can we avoid the mistakes of those who came before us? During a point in time when our history and the visual representations of that history such as statues and memorials, are becoming more important and meaningful to the current generation, it is very much a book which spoke to me.
Through these same ghosts and the darkness which causes them, the book also explores the concept of fate and destiny. If we are told our future, does that event then occur because it was always meant to be so? Or did it occur simply because we were told it would, drawing us towards that inevitability like a moth to a flame? Would that event have occurred if we had never been given that knowledge in the first place. The ideas of fate and causailty are things which have always fascinated me and I particularly enjoyed the way this book explores them. If history is in fact predetermined then fighting it is useless, we will end how we we end. But if it is not yet set in stone, if the face of our future is blurred and not yet fully formed like the faceless boy who haunts and threatens Sam and her family, is there hope then that this can be changed? It’s a fascinating idea and when combined with the classic horror elements like the haunted house and the ghosts, it only serves to amplify the complexity and the very high and real stakes of attempting to change or bend destiny to our will.
I found myself engrossed from the first page and the book remained engaging throughout. The characters are real, believable, relatable and most importantly as flawed and broken as the house they share. The story is interesting and gripping and it’s full of moments and quotes which cause the reader to pause and ponder on topics beyond the scope of the book itself. My only criticisms would be on the last few chapters of the book when Sam makes some truly questionable decisions. Yes, the reader is aware of why she may make such choices, but it felt very much like those moments watching the female victim of a slasher film run up the stairs instead of out the front door. “No,” we hear ourselves cry, “Not that way!” But alas, we are watching these images play out as they will, unable to interfere or effect them just as Sam and her family have watched the echos of the house they live in so many times over their lives. Whilst this did irk me somewhat, it wasn’t a big enough issue to dampen or reduce my enthusiasm and love for the book as a whole and if anything it merely added to the earlier discussed debates about fate and causality.
I could go on and on about the elements of this book which I loved, these aforementioned topics being at the forefront alongside the style and setting of the book itself, but I would rather let the reader discover these things on their own. I wholeheartedly recommend it to any fans of classic horror and I am keen to read more from the author. Overall it’s a 4.5 out of 5 for me and an excellent read all around. Thank you again to Crooked Press for giving me the opportunity to read this fantastic book and to Jo Kaplan for writing it.