Synopsis: Vern is a pregnant Black teenage woman somewhere in the East of U.S.A. She flees from the repressive religious Cainite sect into the wild where she lives self-sustained from the woods. Her strength and endurance is remarkable, slightly supernatural which she needs to escape a “Fiend” who hunts her. She gives birth to two boys, Howling and Feral, dresses them in animal hides, hiding them in makeshift shelters, hunts and gathers to survive the next winter.
Something itches at her back, she rubs herself bleedy with a bark but it doesn’t stop. A parasite takes over her back.
A stranger was growing inside her.
Vern suspects that she was used as a guinea pig back at the Cainites to develop superhero powers. Her metamorphosis just started.
Four years later, she decides to track down her best friend Lucy who left the sect years before her. Arriving at her home, she finds out that Lucy is dead. But she stays there, bonding with a Native American Gogo who takes the little family in.
But outside forces still want to hunt her down and a surreal pursuit starts.
Review: I was eager to read the author’s next book after their mermaid novella The Deep (review).
After some initial troubles getting into the novel, an engaging story started with Vern’s survival story. That first half read like a Wild West story given all the religious sect and wood survival. This drove the novel as a page turner, but ended at Gogo’s doors. Relax and recommit to a different story which was astonishing in a different way. But the rest was more of a psychedelic trip opening up every superhero trope one can think of.
I mostly enjoyed the story despite or maybe because of Vern’s harsh and fierce character. The kids were cute and added to the fun, but most importantly provided the anchor for the theme of responsibility.
Don’t expect a comfort read, it is an intensely angry book yelling at you for attention. Flashbacks to Vern’s past at the Cainites make you suffer with her.
If you like to read a prequel of a superhero, a coming-of-age story which isn’t YA at all, then this is worth your time.
Meta: isbn 9781529118735. Published at 6.5.2021 by Random House UK, Cornerstone.