Review of THE GIRL FROM THE WELL by RIN CHUPECO
(review based on an advance reading copy)
From the first sentence, and then the first chapter, I feared I wouldn’t like this book. The opening scene is classic horror, a visceral description of a horrible man suffering a horrible fate. I don’t like horror. Not my taste. Luckily, I kept reading and the second chapter hooked me.
We read this story through the perspective of the ghost Okiku. She’s a fearsome vigilante who hunts down child murderers and punishes them with brutal deaths. One day she finds herself drawn to a troubled teenage boy covered with tattoos (that have their own disturbing explanation). The boy softens Okiku. She has become accustomed to thinking of herself as a monster, but Tark sees the good she does. In return, Okiku might be the only one who can save Tark from a dreadful destiny of his own.
The story won me over because it remains rooted in character. I even grew to enjoy Okiku’s more horrific scenes the more I understand her motivations. My only complaint regarding character is that Tark’s age often felt like a moving target. He’s fifteen, but sometimes he feels twelve and other times twenty. His maturity and appearance seem to shift depending on whether it suits the scene more for him to be an old kid or a young adult.
Some weird phrasings did throw me out of the story at times. I didn’t note any of them down specifically, but they’re not common mistakes I see all the time. Rather they seem either like things a non-native English speaker might say or like originality attempts that fall short. There’s also some odd formatting choices in the advance copy I read. Though, I believe, designed to emphasize Okiku’s mental instability, the strange formatting merely distracted me. Last a few small plot holes diverted my attention at times. All little things, but certain readers fixate on logic or research lapses as instability in the very foundation of a story.
I should mention that the book’s Japanese-themes definitely elevated the whole story for me. I love everything Japanese: the language, the food, the culture. Someone less interested in Japanese elements will likely enjoy this book a lot less than I did. (I got super excited at the mention of okonomiyaki. Yum!)
This is a short read that only feels a little longer for its heavy themes and dark scenes. Based on word count, I could have read the whole thing in a day, but measuring more by emotional tolerance, well, I needed breaks. At its heart, though, THE GIRL FROM THE WELL tells a familiar story about how the things that haunt us also become an integral part of who we are.