What Lies in the Woods
By Kate Alice Marshall
Naomi was quietly eating her peanut butter sandwich in the woods when her attacker changed her life forever. Dredge up memories of your own childhood with these peanut butter and jelly bars. Click here to get the recipe from Kitchen Fun with My Three Sons.
If this book ever gets made into a movie, I will accept no other opener than children creepily singing a nursery rhyme while demented giggles ring out from the dark woods.
Kate Alice Marshall’s debut novel, What Lies in the Woods, is sure to make you relive your childhood games while making you question the impact of lost innocence. Cassidy, Olivia, and Naomi are three unlikely best friends who spend much of their childhood inseparable. They love stomping through the thick woods in their hometown and inventing games. The summer that they turned 11, life began to change. The girls were all growing up, and they could sense that this was their last summer playing childhood games out in the woods. So, when Cassidy created a new game called “The Goddess Game,” the girls threw their whole hearts into it. Then, the game became too real.
One day, they came across a sunken cave in the ground, barely accessible to humans. The girls managed to crawl into it and found human bones. The skeleton was wearing a bracelet that read, “Persephone.” In Greek mythology, Persephone is a daughter of Zeus and queen of the underworld. The skeleton seemed destined to become a part of their game, so the girls decide not to tell anyone about it. Instead, they created a series of rituals that had to be performed around Persephone. They swore each other to secrecy.
One day, Naomi and Cassidy got into a fight. Naomi crawled out of Persephone’s cave and went to go sit on a rock so she could eat her peanut butter sandwich. Suddenly, she was attacked from behind. Her attempted murderer slashed at her face, but Naomi never saw who it was. She remembers waking up and seeing Cody, Cassidy’s brother’s friend, carrying her out of the woods to safety.
In the aftermath of the attack, the Sheriff showed the girls a picture of Alan Strahn, who was a suspected serial killer thought to be in the area at that time. Naomi is told that Cassidy and Olivia saw the attack and identified Strahn as the perpetrator. Naomi decides in the moment to lie and say that she saw Strahn’s face. Strahn is tried, found guilty, and sent to prison.
Now, 22 years later, the girls have just received notification of Strahn’s death. Olivia has struggled with mental illness for years and attempted suicide a few years prior. She requested that the girls meet back in their hometown of Chester to commemorate the occasion together. Naomi takes the opportunity to reconnect with Cody, who is a happily married state senator representing Chester, while also avoiding Ethan, an aspiring true crime podcast host. Then, Olivia calls Naomi and Cassidy together to discuss the secret that they’ve been keeping for the last 22 years– the location of Persephone’s bones. She wants to tell the authorities about the skeleton, and the girls reluctantly agree. At the meeting, Naomi and Cassidy both note that Olivia seems more on edge than normal. A concerning text caused Naomi to go out looking for her one night, and she finds Olivia dead in a lake in the woods. The death is ruled a suicide, but Naomi isn’t totally convinced. As Naomi begins to unravel the mystery with the help of Ethan, the events that led to her attack 22 years ago begin to crash down around her.
What Lies in the Woods makes you nostalgic for those childhood days when you played outside with your friends until the sun went down. I vividly relived the complex games that my friends and I played as I read the story of Naomi, Olivia, and Cassidy. It contrasted with the details of Naomi’s attack, making it feel even darker and more contorted. Even though the reader only follows Naomi’s story through two distinct time periods, you feel the impact that the trauma has had on her entire life. Her pain feels like it is festering throughout the entire story.
The other highlight of the book is the unique way in which it keeps you guessing. Once I finished reading, I had to sit back and think about whether it was easy to predict. There were some parts that I predicted early on. Other portions of the story took me down a labyrinth of guesses that I could not sort out. This book stands out in the highly-competitive thriller category by the way in which it fuses together predictable and unpredictable information. You might feel like you know all the pieces of the puzzle, but you can never combine them together to form the full picture.
If you thrive on uncertainty and the element of surprise, What Lies in the Woods is a solid selection for you. It is guaranteed to take you back to a simpler time only to pull the rug out from under your feet.
My Rating System Explained 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was an amazing book, and I can't stop thinking about it. It impacted me emotionally or changed my perspective. My thoughts keep flickering back to it at random times throughout the day. I will absolutely recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was a really good book. Parts of it stuck with me, and I might mention it in a conversation. There is a high likelihood that I will recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 3 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️: I liked this book. It allowed me to escape from reality for a while. While I might tell somebody about it if I think it will interest them, I will probably not suggest it to one of my book clubs. 2 Stars ⭐️⭐️: There's something about this book that I didn't like. I wasn't willing to go all the way down to a one-star rating, but I'm definitely not digging it. I may recognize that this book is not for me, but it might be for other people. I will not recommend it to my friends or one of my book clubs. 1 Star ⭐️: My rarest rating. I really didn't like this book. Something in the story line upset me, and I probably "hate-read" the majority of the book. Not only will I not recommend it, but I will actively tell people that I did not like it.