Thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: August 11th, 2020
Synopsis: Sam Wakefield’s ancestral home, a decaying mansion built on the edge of a swamp, isn’t a place for children. Its labyrinthine halls, built by her mad ancestors, are filled with the echoes of the past: ghosts and memories knitted together as one. In the presence of phantoms, it’s all Sam can do to disentangle past from present in her daily life. But when her pregnant sister Elizabeth moves in after a fight with her husband, something in the house shifts. Already navigating her tumultuous relationship with Elizabeth, Sam is even more unsettled by the appearance of a new ghost: a faceless boy who commits disturbing acts—threatening animals, terrorizing other children, and following Sam into the depths of the house wielding a knife. When it becomes clear the boy is connected to a locked, forgotten room, one which is never entered, Sam realizes this ghost is not like the others. This boy brings doom. As Elizabeth’s due date approaches, Sam must unravel the secrets of Wakefield before her sister brings new life into a house marked by death. But as the faceless boy grows stronger, Sam will learn that some doors should stay closed—and some secrets are safer locked away forever.
The Parable of the Knocker
In Wakefield Manor, a decaying ancestral mansion brooding on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, there is a locked room. For years it has been inaccessible, closing out from the world all the aborted secrets stilled in its dormant womb. After climbing the main staircase that curves up through the house like a twisted spine, you’ll find a long hallway with striped and long-faded viridian wallpaper that evokes algae-choked seafoam. On the third floor you’ll pass a linen closet, a disused nursery, a bathroom with a cracked clawfoot tub, and a wood-beamed room inhabited by broken furniture draped in white sheets. Then the hall narrows and turns a corner, it’s high ceiling webbed in shadow, and you are faced with a windowless passage, at the end of which lies the heavy door of distressed mahogany—and whatever lies beyond it.
Tell me you don’t have goosebumps from reading that! This opening paragraph from It Will Just Be Us, is the best introduction to a haunted house story that I’ve read since The Haunting of Hill House.
I’m going to be honest and say that the characters and some of the directions the storyline takes are slightly predictable, but this is a minor complaint. It’s difficult to capture a reader’s attention and keep it with a book that doesn’t have a lot of action, but Jo Kaplan does a wonderful job here. While I said the characters are a bit predictable, they’re still interesting, especially the narrator, Sam. She’s just complicated enough, that although I was fairly confident where her decision making was going to lead, I wasn’t 100% positive.
What really makes this book, is the modern southern gothic setting and storyline which is a mix of The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both by Shirley Jackson, with the real life Winchester Mystery House. I’d also add that there’s even a nod to The Shining, by Stephen King, near the end. The descriptive details of the house are wonderfully done and I could picture the rooms and its inhabitants, both past and present, in my mind. The house’s history and its connection to slavery is shared through the generations of Wakefields who resided there, and adds layer after layer to this haunting tale. Wakefield Manor is so vividly brought to life that it actually becomes a character in its own right. The story isn’t fast-paced, but it has this steady creeping sense of menace that kept me mesmerized. There is one particular scene that I need to warn would-be readers and animal lovers about. A bird is graphically tortured in one of the opening chapters. You should be able to see this coming though and easily skim past it.
Overall, while not the most original literary horror tale, It Will Just Be Us, is a worthy read thanks to Jo Kaplan’s beautiful writing style. I highly recommend it to fellow fans of the genre, and I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.