DIREWOOD by CATHERINE YU
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Listen, I know spooky season is over. I know it’s nearly Thanksgiving and the holidays are almost upon us, but hear me out: Every day is spooky season for me. So when Direwood by Catherine Yu came across my radar, I was ecstatic. It became my most anticipated read the second I read that this book was a.) vampire fiction, b.) set in the 90s, and c.) marketed as a “velvet-wrapped Gothic tale.” All of these things in conjunction nearly made me lose my mind with excited. I preordered a signed copy, and I waited with baited breath for release day. I’m happy to say, dear readers, that I was not disappointed by Direwood in the slightest. In fact, it‘s one of my favorite reads of the year;
Direwood follows Aja and Fiona, two Chinese-American sisters living the picture perfect life in the dreamy suburb of Glen Hills. Glen Hills is mostly white, and for that reason, Aja particularly feels like an outcast as a young Asian woman. Fiona, on the other hand, has no problem fitting in and is largely regarded as perfect by everyone in Glen Hills. However, when red rain starts falling over the town and hungry white caterpillars begin eating through every tree on Aja and Fiona’s road, Aja realizes something is deeply wrong. And then Fiona goes missing and he shows up at Aja’s window. He being Padraic, a vampire who takes Aja away from her home to a decrepit old church in the woods.
It is here Aja makes it her mission to find her missing sister, but the longer she stays at the church–this church filled with bloodsucking butterflies and hungry caterpillars–she realizes getting away from Padraic and rescoring her sister might not be as easy as she thought.
I’m not even going to pretend I didn’t love everything about this book, because I did. Yu’s exploration of assimilation against the backdrop of this vampire story was amazing, and her prose is excellent, oozing dread and beauty in equal measure. Aja is flawed in a way that makes her relatable, and her struggles with being in Fiona’s shadow is something anyone with a sibling can understand. I loved the mythology of the vampires here, as well as the setting of the old church. There’s some truly shocking–albeit kind of gross–moments in this slim book, especially near the end. the dreadful (in a wonderful way) slow burn throughout the middle rockets to a stunning and visceral conclusion. There isn’t exactly a happy ending, but a satisfying one. it fit the tone of the rest of the book well and I can’t see the story ending in another way.
Overall, this was an excellent read and a great addition to the YA vampire canon. There’s less romance here and much more horror, but I didn’t mind at all. Direwood is fantastic and I’d love a Netflix movie now.