The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould
The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won’t stay hidden any longer.
Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.
Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED AUGUST 3RD, 2021
Snakebite, Oregon is haunted.
At least, that’s what Logan believes. Why else would her dads, TV hit ghost investigators, have any interest in scoping out a small town? Not that they’d tell her. It sometimes feels like she’s just along for the ride, and with her eighteenth birthday on the horizon, she’s counting down the days until she can find home on her own. Lately, home hasn’t been anywhere near her family.
And for Ashley, it’s what she fears. If Snakebite is haunted, that means her missing boyfriend is dead, and something truly foul really is at work. If she keeps believing he’s alive, though, if she keeps searching for him, then there’s still a chance Tristan will come back, and everything will be right again. Even if there is a new family in town, one that everyone wants to blame for Tristan’s disappearance. One with a deeper history in Snakebite than Ashley knows.
For all their differences, though, they’re going to have to work together. Otherwise, Snakebite may never recover from the darkness lying underneath.
This is a book first and foremost about love and hate.
I lead with this for two reasons. The first is that homophobia is rife in this book. It shapes some characters’ entire lives, while it impacts other characters in sharp, painful spurts. I wouldn’t call it gratuitous, but I do think it’s worth mentioning. There are some readers who may need time before picking up a book that so prominently features both the cruel sting and painful neutrality of small town homophobia, and I can’t blame them. Sometimes, it can be hard to say what hurts more: outright homophobia, or people deliberately looking the other way, deliberately withholding support when it is most needed.
But I also lead with this to say that The Dead and the Dark is about finding love despite that hate. Love for yourself, even when you are at your lowest, and love for your family, even when your bonds have frayed. Queer love, too, even when the surrounding world wants to tear that apart and cast it away. It’s about love as a force more powerful than hate, whether it’s love for a passion, a partner, a place.
And it’s also about how hard it can really be to choose that love, to lean into it with your entire heart, especially when you’ve already been hurt. Logan displays this most prominently, as her relationship with her dads, especially Brandon, is often tinged with neglect, but Ashley experiences it more subtle ways, sometimes getting false support instead of clear antagonism. Both girls are more than a little adrift in Snakebite, staring into uncertain futures, and choosing what or who they love is no small, quiet act.
If that doesn’t convince you to read The Dead and the Dark, though, how about all the spookiness afoot?
I loved this book largely for the way it handles all the myriad responses to love and hate, especially since it covers those feelings directed at oneself. But I have to say, the paranormal elements were executed very well! The ghostly aspects of Snakebite reveal themselves slowly, one vision, one grave, one pinch of buried history at a time. No one holds all the answers, and sometimes, they learn hard truths not by choice, but by the whims of eerie glimpses into the past.
It combines shockingly well with the very real horrors of missing children, homophobic violence, and a growing sense of paranoia the longer questions linger unanswered. Most importantly, the paranormal doesn’t overshadow normal (for lack of a better word) tragedies. It’s born of them, bolstered by them, but doesn’t eclipse them save for at a single, critical moment that is nonetheless carried out with phenomenal skill. I appreciated that in ways I’m not sure I can fully express, save to say that I’m grateful that the imaginary horror was not treated like something more horrific than the everyday real horror.
Also? I’m in love with the origins of the big paranormal bad, because it takes something commonplace and shows what a negative power it can become, what a danger. The best horror elements have some trace of reality in them, though, don’t they?
This is a perfect read for the end of the summer, when the days stretch toward the first traces of fall.
It’s crisp and full of heart (many hearts, in fact, some broken in ways that still have me moved), and it captures what should be a golden moment in a scenic small town just as the darkness begins to creep in round the edges. It’s like a photograph, almost, taken just as the clouds roll in and cast a long shadow over someone’s smile.
The Dead and the Dark will be on shelves in just a few days, starting on August 3rd, and if you haven’t placed a pre-order or library request, I encourage you to make that happen. This goes double for anyone who likes sapphic stories, paranormal stories, or a combination of the two! This may be a story that explores the depths of love and hate, but I hope you’re like me, and only find love for it in your heart.
CW: violence (including gun violence), loss of a loved one, animal death mention, child death, homophobia and related hate crimes, underage drinking