REVIEW: The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher

"The Killing Woods" by Lucy Christopher
“The Killing Woods” by Lucy Christopher


Emily’s dad is accused of murdering a teenage girl. Emily is sure he is innocent, but what happened that night in the woods behind their house where she used to play as a child? Determined to find out, she seeks out Damon Hillary the enigmatic boyfriend of the murdered girl. He also knows these woods. Maybe they could help each other. But he’s got secrets of his own about games that are played in the dark.


Something was draped across Dad’s outstretched arms. A deer? A fawn that was injured? It was sprawled and long-legged, something that had been caught in a poacher’s trap maybe. A mistake.

—ARC paperback edition


Emily and Damon, one the daughter of an accused murderer and the other the boyfriend of the murder victim, share their first-person accounts of the months following Ashlee’s death. It is Emily, and the exploration of the emotional roller coaster she’s riding, that is the strongest point of this novel.  While her story may revolve around proving her father’s innocence without any subplots to give the girl her own agency, Emily still is a sympathetic young woman.  She makes mistakes and is allowed to learn from them; her few remaining friends also support her emotionally.  The second narrator, Damon, is fairly unlikable.  He spends so much of his search for information hell-bent on figuring out if he finally had sex with Ashlee.  His ego seemed bruised when memories indicate to him that she may have spurned him for being too high.

While the novel has a connection to mental health issues, Emily’s father and his war-induced PTSD is not treated in a kind or understanding manner by any of the other townsfolk–which would make sense, as a girl has been murdered, but in a military town any trace of empathy would have been expected.

The reveal of how the murder occurred and how that information was obtained may seem sudden, convenient, or implausible.  A basic understanding of personal technology, investigations, and autopsies may leave some readers scratching their head at the absurdity, and how everything is neatly wrapped up through logic hand-waves.  A simple comparison of the implied murder weapon with the bruising on Ashlee’s body would cast enough doubt on the guilt of Emily’s father.

The action of the story could easily have taken place over a week without much damage to the suspense, and likely would tighten the plot by removing several inaccuracies.  The only strong police presence comes at the very end, to deliver the moral and warning to the characters for the sake of the audience.

Appropriate for ages 14+.  Strong language, strong drug and alcohol use, violence that includes dangerous games, strong sexual elements including sexualization of a minor and slut-shaming. Contains moments of distinct misogyny and violent thoughts aimed at young women.

Deals with mental health, family, drug use and abuse, grief, guilt and innocence, bullying, sexuality, identity, and death.

Readers should feel encouraged to discuss how Ashlee’s sexuality and activity made them feel, if her death felt more or less tragic because of this information.  In general, readers would benefit from discussions on victim-blaming and slut-shaming and how such behaviors relate to Ashlee, her murder, and particularly how the men in her life hide behind those feelings to reduce empathy for the murder victim.

If you…

  • Enjoy seeing both sides of a story
  • Are a fan of The Impossible Knife of Memory
  • Need a killer mystery
  • Have ever gone to extreme lengths to learn the truth



Contemporary YA thriller
Hardcover & Ebook, 384 pages
Published January 7th, 2014 by Chicken House (ISBN0545461006)

(Review copy provided by Chicken House Scholastic Inc.)


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