In the Dark, In the Woods by Eliza Wass is an utterly addictive and seriously messed up story. So I loved it. Of course. It also goes by the title “The Cresswell Plot” (which I admit I am a little more fond of). It’s a YA contemporary that is about a cultish family with a terrifying controlling father and rather feral kids who want something more from their lives. And what they’ll do to get out.
The story is from the perspective of Castley who lives in a decrepit house in the woods with her large family and her father who believes they are the perfect chosen ones destined for great things from God. He doesn’t let the kids have friends, they spend hours listening to him read from his cultish book, and they’re only allowed to wear basically sack-cloth. The kids have to go to school, but they’re under strict orders to interact as little as possible. Their father even has them paired off to marry eventually. Yep. Never complain about your family again.
It’s chilling and addictive and you sit there biting your nails and wondering if the father is going to do something really bad at any second.
It also basically has a checklist of things I enjoy reading about:
- big family (6 siblings) ✓
- complicated sibling relationships ✓
- heartbreaking tragic boys ✓
- minimal romance ✓
- super freaky moments because you never know if the father might snap and murder the kids or not
- incredible names (Castley, Mortimer, Hannan, Caspar, Jerusalem and Delvive) ✓
- excellent writing ✓
It’s quite the cult story. Castley’s father has basically written his own “bible” and he abuses the children when they step out of line. The mother is disabled and depressed and can get no help from the outside world because the father thinks anything too modern is evil. I thought the book really captured the confusion of how it’d be to live like this as well. Castley knows her father is wrong, but at the same time this is her family and she loves them. I wanted her to get out of the situation so badly, but at the same time, I didn’t want her to lose her siblings. And she loved her siblings so much, but some of them were brainwashed into thinking their father was right. Stories about abused children are very emotional and I think the book captured this perfectly, while adding in lighter moments and some bantering dialogue, so the overall tone was “terrifying” instead of “utterly depressing”.
There cast of characters is huge, but everyone was so complex and interesting! I loved Castley’s narration voice, and she was winning and captivating. Her brothers Mortimer and Casper were also my favourites. Precious darlings. They waxed and waned between rebelling and following in line with the cult father. Jerusalem didn’t speak. Hannan, the oldest, was a bit aloof and somehow bypassed the brunt of all abuse, but he didn’t try to help the others. Ergo I didn’t like him much. Del made herself very timid and nondescript to avoid attention. But the kids totally stole my heart.
The book is rather small so the plot is fast. There are plenty of school scenes, where Castley does drama and finds a “friend” that she develops quite a crush on. She starts to try and find out what it’d be like to live as a “normal” person, while her family situation is escalating as their father runs out of money and goes even more insane. I whipped through it in just a few hours!
In The Dark, In The Woods is a solidly enthralling story with excellent writing and amazing characters. It’s very character focused and I loved how real everyone felt. It was written with visual gorgeousness and I couldn’t stop reading. Like, please, someone duct tape this book to my soul. I love it. Definitely recommend to fans who like cult books, lowkey thrillers, and stories about sibling bonds.