Review: Where Darkness Blooms - Andrea Hannah
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Published: Wednesday Books, February 2023
My Rating: 1/5 stars
It’s been a while since a book made me angry enough to warrant a “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" style review, but thanks to Where Darkness Blooms here we are. I really appreciated what the author was trying to do, and the themes they were trying to tackle, but unfortunately, the execution was just all over the place. So much so, that it did more harm than good in some places.
Long review incoming!
Credits where credits are due: this book nails its aesthetics. And I’m not just talking about the cover, although that one deserves some awards in its own right. Massive, massive compliments to Marcela Bolivar, for not only creating this stunning artwork, but also capturing the feeling of this book so well within it. Thát is what good cover-art is all about!!
The aesthetics within this book are spot on as well. Every descriptions of scenery of the rural town of Bishop and its surrounding sunflower-fields painted a vivid picture in my mind, and ended up tying into the plot as well. The beauty and claustrophobic, creeping dread of the landscape are balanced well, which isn’t easy to pull off.
Unfortunately, that’s where my praise ends.
Although the world that these characters inhabit may look pretty, it doesn’t make sense. Which is my way of saying: it’s riddled with plot holes. From page one, there are signs that this world either isn’t thought through enough, or the author accepted some non-sensical things, just so the plot could progress.
As a very early (so least spoilery) example: Our four protagonists are underaged, yet live completely emancipated in a giant house by themselves, after their mothers went missing years ago. How does any of this work? Who takes care of them? Where are their dads? Where the heck is CPS? How do they afford this house and bills when they’re all still in school? Why does nobody question any of this? The author makes a flimsy attempt at explaining that their fathers “were absent all their lives, so they can take care of themselves” or something… All I kept thinking was: these are literal children, none of this is legal, and none of this is okay…
Things only get worse from there: the town being fully functional, yet completely cut off from the entire rest of the world (like how the hell do supplies get here than? The townspeople don’t live off sunflower-seeds alone, do they?), the inhabitants not questioning some very strange and unacceptable situations and our protagonists being the first ever smart girls to do so… it all felt so unbelievable to me.
Also, the trope of non-communication does a lot of heavy lifting, which is never a good thing. If a conflict only holds as long as the protagonists don’t talk to each other, it isn’t a good conflict to center your story around.
Depending on how sensitive to spoilers you are: consider this your warning. I will mention as few as possible specific plot-points, but I will discuss major themes and “reveals”, including late-story ones.
This book clearly tries to communicate a central message of feminism, but it’s a strange branch of feminism that is prevalent in YA these days, and that I’m increasingly uncomfortable with. Let’s call it “chosen-girl-feminism”.
In these stories, all men are assholes, and all women are victims. That alone is problematic enough of a take, but let’s continue. Enter our chosen protagonist: the first girl with the smarts to question the status quo, and the power to defeat the male-threat, where countless other women have failed. Where Darkness Blooms takes that to the extreme with the following. Near the end, our characters reflect on why they could break this curse, when generations of women, including their mothers failed. We then get this gem of an explanation: “they weren’t ready to break the curse”. It’s this strange way of making our protagonists feel special, but simultaneously victim-blaming the other women in the story as “if only they’d been strong/ready/special enough, this wouldn’t have happened”. Victim-blaming shows up in a more literal form as well, when Evan, who we’re supposed to like, tells one of the girls “she asked for/wanted to be sexually assaulted”. Hard no.
The “chosen-girl-feminism” makes another appearance at the end, when our four mains make it out of the town, after they’ve destroyed it with the power of their collected female rage. We’re supposed to see this as a victorious ending, and completely ignore the faith of literally every other woman in that town! Our mains made it out right… Who cares about the rest.
I don’t really know how else to say this than: this is not my kind of feminism. My kind of feminism is not just for a chosen few, but inclusive to everybody.
Speaking of inclusivity, my second gripe with this book lies with its minority-representation, which felt very tagged-on. I appreciate the mention of characters of colour, indigenous characters, and trans-characters, but neither these themes or the characters were explored enough to feel like they belonged in the story. They felt like tokens to pay the way past a sensitivity-panel. In my opinion, banning your minority characters so far to the margins of your story is almost more harmful than not mentioning them at all. “I acknowledge your existence, but you cannot take away center stage from my protagonists”. Again; not my kind of inclusivity.
On a final short note, as many other reviewers have already pointed this out: the mothers in this story are terrible for abandoning their daughters in the way they did and do not deserve to be forgiven so easily. The “happy ending” here is completely unearned and unsatisfying.
If you’re looking for something similar (small-town horror with ghosts/creepy vibes, similar themes and some LGBTQIA+ rep), I’d recommend: The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould, We Speak in Storms by Natalie Lund or Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power.
Find this book here on Goodreads.