The Woods are Always Watching
reviewed by Erin Clemence
Stephanie Perkins’ first foray into horror novels, There’s Someone Inside Your House, has been turned into a Netflix series and her second, The Woods Are Always Watching could definitely follow suit!
Neena and Josie are best friends who bonded over their outsider status in high school, both abandoned by their old friend groups. Now, the two are facing a future without each other, as Neena travels to the West Coast for school. Desperate for a last-minute bonding trip together, Neena and Josie decide to go camping through the trails of the Pisgah National Forest. However, the trip was not as exciting as they anticipated, and the terrain is far rougher and steeper than they expected. But then Neena hears a sound in the forest and they get more excitement than they bargained for as Jodie and Neena fight to escape the woods alive.
The Woods are Always Watching starts off similar to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, where the young, inexperienced girls hike an unknown trail together with some brand new camping supplies and only each other for company. But it all goes pear-shaped, very fast, and the teens are soon fighting for survival.
Both Neena and Josie are the kind of quirky, eccentric teenage protagonists that become instantly relatable. The two are desperate to save their relationship, faced with their impending separation. Of course, the friendship is also extremely honest and real, as the two teens quickly start to bicker and feud when left to their own devices in the woods. Right from page one, I cheered for both Neena and Josie, and wanted them to succeed, not only in saving their lives but also in salvaging their friendship.
The novel is not written in chapters, but instead in large sections, with the titles Together and Apart, to signify when the girls are traveling separately and, well, together. The largest section, “Together,” at the beginning, is nearly half of the book, and it details Neena and Josie’s initial trek into the forest. The sections are clearly labeled, and the narration alternates between Neena and Josie (also clearly labeled), so it is easy to follow.
Even those non-campers (like me) will get into this novel right away. The descriptive settings set an eerie tone, and I waited on pins and needles, knowing that something bad was coming. The anticipation was well worth it, when Willie and Lyman become known to the girls and a whole new battle wages. The ending hits with a punch, and I was left completely exhausted (in a good way) yet satisfied.
Well-told, with strong characters and a chilling setting, The Woods are Always Watching will have you looking over your shoulder and listening for those things that go “bump” in the night. Definitely a good campfire story- although I strongly recommend not reading this novel on a camping trip!