We Haunt These Woods
Bleeding Edge Books (July 19, 2022)
Reviewed by Elaine Pascale
We Haunt These Woods is a truly entertaining read, with nods to horror tropes that fans will enjoy. Wooded areas can be peaceful and meditative, or they can be frightening and foreboding. Cornetto chose the latter option, and she wields it wisely.
While there is a creepy, deadly figure known as the Forest Man literally haunting the woods, the plural pronoun in the title refers to the group of friends who are trying to forget, but cannot leave behind, their past. The friends were the children of families who came together every summer to vacation. The pack of kids includes the narrator, Nate, who acts as the straight man for the story. He is the touchstone for the reader and has a trusting voice. There is Brandon, the budding Eagle Scout; Lee, the bad boy bully; Marcus, the dweeb; Jennifer, Nate’s crush; and Sarah, Jennifer’s sister.
The book opens with Nate and Jennifer as adults meeting for the first time in twenty years to confront the memories of the woods that continue to haunt them. We learn that one of their friends, Franklin, had gone missing in the woods during a vacation long ago. The following summer, Marcus and Sarah disappeared. This was assumed to be the work of the Forest Man.
The Forest Man lives in a cave in the woods. The cave disappears when adults try to see it. The children who venture in are later plagued by dreams of the Forest Man, who wants them to come play. Playing with him means never returning, but an exchange can be made—another child can be sacrificed instead.
The book shifts between the present day and the past, with the characters reliving their last summer in the woods. There is a nice nostalgic atmosphere to the flashback scenes. The kids speak and think like real kids (it reminded me of The Black Phone and yes, I just compared Cornetto to Joe Hill. She could hold her own with him). The present-day scenes are also masterfully managed. The adults showcase a disillusionment that is partially the fault of the woods and partially the part of bad choices that are relatable.
Once I started We Haunt These Woods, I couldn’t put it down. The writing is tight and engaging and the chapters end with mini-cliffhangers. I liked the characters, who never fell into stereotype despite their familiarity. In fact, I would enjoy it if Cornetto revisited some of the characters and the Forest Man, as the ending allowed for further iterations. I know the days of August are winding down, but if anyone has any time left allotted to summer reading, I highly recommend filling that space with this book.