Book Review of Katya de Becerra’s What the Woods Keep

Reviewed by Angela Wauchop

“[…] my mother left our family home and walked into the fog-shrouded forest […] never to be seen again. One missing human in a crowd of many.

Yet I feel her visceral tug, as if she calls on me, as if her pull defies space and time to reach me. As if my mother is still pulling me, reaching under my skin, entering my bloodstream, making my blood sing in response, in recognition.”

What the Woods Keep is the debut novel of Australian author and anthropologist Katya de Becerra. Worlds collide and intertwine in this suspenseful story, but so do science and science-fiction, along with mythology, suspense, mystery and even a peppering of romance. The novel portrays the story of Hayden, an American girl who, on her eighteenth birthday, inherits her late mother’s estate—a sprawling fog-shrouded manor in Colorado.

Hayden visits the rune-carved manor with her roommate, Del, a young French student who is also Hayden’s best friend. Both Hayden and Del are relatable and likeable characters right from the beginning. Del is described as having a dislike of any mystery and even ‘reads a book’s last chapter first to know what’s coming’. How horrifying! One other surprising thing about the book’s two main characters is their maturity, intelligence and composure throughout their experiences. Despite their youth, their witty banter and observations are refreshing and absorbing. In fact, from the very first page, I was chuffed by the description of Doreen, executor of Hayden’s mother’s will. Hayden describes Doreen as a character who looks like an ancient unwrapped mummy with a magnificently fake tan and lots of make-up. I think I’ve met this woman!

Every now and then What the Woods Keep thrills me, not just because of its suspense and excitement, but because of gems like: “ […] I metamorphosed from a wannabe Scully into something of a Mulder. […] so it’s my newfound Mulderness that’s telling me it’s worth a try[…]”. The fantastic and useful proper noun ‘Mulderness’, is now in my personal dictionary. Similary, other literary treasures arise throughout the story and surprise me with how much I relate to them, such as: ‘[…] to an unsuspecting observer, I might come off as a robot. It still takes me a few breaths to figure out an appropriate reaction sometimes”.

Although there are no spoilers here, I will say that Katya de Becerra’s writing gives way to a satisfying and magnificently decoded climax. In fact, when reading a novel, I am always impressed when something weird, even deranged happens. This is one of many reasons why Katya de Becerra’s book is my kind of read. The story will, however, also appeal to the Young Adult reader interested in its meaty themes and modern vibe. But relax… I assure you there is not an angsty teenage character in sight!

I love that What the Woods Keep is contemporary and its settings are tangible yet uncertain. The story’s solid foundation and modern familiarity magically blend with an other-worldly feel. As a reader, I found the story engaging and full of effortlessly flowing words and long-lasting imagery.



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