February 13, 2017

Review: What the Dead Want by Norah Olson

Title: What the Dead Want
Author: Norah Olson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: July 26, 2016
Hardcover: 320 pgs

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16 -year-old Gretchen takes photographs to understand the world around her, a passion her mother Mona fostered and encouraged when she was still around. Since her mom disappeared years ago, Gretchen and her dad have lived on their own in New York City, haunted by Mona’s absence. When Gretchen’s great aunt Esther calls unexpectedly to tell her that she has inherited the pre-Civil War mansion on her mother’s side of the family in upstate New York, Gretchen understands nothing except that her aunt needs her help. But what she finds there is beyond her imagination. The house is crumbling apart, filled with stacks of papers and journals from decades, even centuries past, and it’s crawling with rodents. It’s also full of secrets and a legacy of racism and violence so reprehensible that the ghosts of the past are exacting revenge on the living. Somehow the mystery of Mona’s disappearance and the atrocities that happened on the land during the Civil War are inextricably intertwined, and it’s up to Gretchen to figure out how…before even more lives are lost.

I don't like being torn. When it comes to most novels, I like to be able to say that I definitely love or hate it either way. But this novel tears me up. There are aspects that I enjoyed, and many that I did not. I won't tell you whether you should read the book -- I'll just give you the facts and let you decide :)

First off, I enjoyed the artistic aspect of this book. The photographs are described in great detail, and I like the idea of capturing more than just meets the eye. There aren't many main characters that care so deeply about photography, and this made Gretchen unique.

I also enjoyed the historical backstory within the book. The letters that go back and forth between characters long gone. The racial tension, the unexpected romances...I think I enjoyed the dead characters more than the living ones.

What I didn't like was the predictability of it all. I felt like I could see what was coming before I got there, which made the book so hard to get through. There were a few twists, but not many.

I also didn't like not knowing exactly where this book fit. At times, it seemed to be trying so hard to be funny and young. Other times, it felt like it was trying to be a horror story (more gory than scary). And other times, the violence was so intense that I thought it shouldn't even be considered YA. The tone of the novel just changed so often that I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have otherwise.

Overall, the book felt unbelievable (the characters, not the ghosts) and too far-fetched to be enjoyed. I liked the history and the backstory, but not much else.

2 out of 5 stars.

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