The Little Woods, by McCormick Templeman

I was drawn to McCormick Templeman's debut novel The Little Woods as soon as I pulled it out of the publishers' box. The cover art and title managed to be simultaneously elegant, menacing, and teen-girl-friendly, and it appeared to be a murder mystery without a paranormal element—a rare beast, at least as far as YA books are concerned.

Templeman's protagonist is an awkward but highly intelligent high school junior named Cally Wood. When Cally accepts a full-ride scholarship to attend St. Bede's Academy, her family's tragic connection to the prestigious boarding school is paramount in her mind: ten years ago, Cally's older sister disappeared during a visit to St. Bede's, and her body was never found. Despite the academy's complex social politics, Cally finds her feet with surprising—almost suspicious—ease. She begins to actually enjoy life at school... until she discovers that her sister wasn't the only girl to go missing in St. Bede's woods.

Unfortunately, the interior of The Little Woods never lived up to the promise of its cover. The mystery was solid, and I enjoyed the boarding school setting, but the rest of the story was weak. There were too many half-baked plot elements, like lazy, poorly-groomed Cally's ability to attract both the school's golden boy and an eccentric soccer player. I hoped this storyline would be woven into the central mystery (maybe one of them is seducing her for some nefarious purpose...?), but it was just another generic, far-fetched love triangle. I sincerely wish The Little Woods had been set in an all-girls school instead; all of the book's most interesting characters are female, and cutting out the romantic storyline would have left more space to explore their relationships and motivations.

To be fair, I found The Little Woods sufficiently entertaining to read in a single sitting, despite the implausible and unnecessary love triangle. But if I could give Ms. Templeman one piece of advice regarding her future efforts, I'd pass along the immortal words of Strunk and White: Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready, and able. Templeman stuffs her story with words like “demarcated” and “benighted” and “carapace”, which actually made the novel's weaknesses far more apparent—rather than losing myself in the creepy surreality of The Little Woods (and therefore ignoring my problems with its plot, at least until I closed the book), I was constantly falling out of the story, rolling my eyes over the author's desire to show off what was undoubtedly a very high score on the Verbal section of her SATs.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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