Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Genre: Young adult graphic novel (short stories)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: July 15 2014
Source: Purchased at San Diego Comic Con
It came from the woods. Most strange things do.
I don’t read many graphic novels, and after reading Through the Woods, I’m not sure why that is! I chanced upon Emily Carroll at San Diego Comic Con signing books at the Mysterious Galaxy booth, and on a whim I purchased a copy and waited in line. Not only did the author surprise me with a doodle on the signature page, but her book was a surprise as well. I expected a slightly scary fairy tale-themed story for teens, but what I got was much darker. Carroll’s artwork is bold and graphic, and her drawings are beautifully detailed, although at first glance they appear simple because she uses so few colors.
Through the Woods is a group of five stories that use the common fairy-tale theme of the woods to tie them all together. But “common” is definitely not a word I can use to describe this book at all. Lurking between the covers are five very different stories that all seem to start on the path you might expect: children or young women are put in a situation where they will need to travel through a wooded area at some point during the story. But each tale ends up in a completely different place, and this is why Carroll’s book stands out. With each turn of the page, the tone becomes increasingly more sinister, and the reader becomes more and more uncomfortable.
In A Lady’s Hands Are Cold, a young girl is sent by her father to marry a man who lives in a palace, but when she arrives, she discovers a terrible secret waiting for her. Carroll’s use of the color red throughout each story hints of blood and terror (although “hints” is hardly the correct word: there is blood aplenty here!). My Friend Janna is the story of a girl who helps her best friend, who can “see” ghosts, perform séances for unsuspecting clients. But what happens when the girl starts to see real ghosts? Perhaps the scariest tale is The Nesting Place, which starts out with a school girl going to stay with her older brother and his wife. Little by little, we realize that something terribly wrong is going on in their house. The tension ramps up to a horrific reveal, and it was not at all what I was expecting.
Each story is told with a minimum of words. Carroll’s gorgeous but sinister illustrations manage to convey most of the horror in these tales. She turns the woods into elongated arms and fingers, like tree branches grasping at the girls who foolishly wander into them. Her characters are often drawn with dark circles around their eyes, which hide their expressions and add a sense of doom to the stories. I finished this book with an odd feeling of unease, but even then I wanted to go back and stare at the pages, to try to figure out how the author made me feel this way. Emily Carroll has become one of my favorite illustrators, and her high contrast palette of colors and stark use of black, white and red make this book especially appealing to me.
If you’re expecting happy fairy tale endings, then Through the Woods probably won’t be your thing. But if you’re looking for a creepy collection of beautifully illustrated stories that will make your heart beat faster, then this book is a must-read.
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