The West Woods
by Suzy Vadori
A legacy family full of secrets, a mysterious fountain set in dense woods, and a prestigious preparatory school make up the bones of The West Woods, the new novel by Canadian author Suzy Vadori. A prequel to the Prix Aurora Awards Finalist The Fountain, readers of The West Woods are given exclusive insight into the character of Courtney and how she began her fast track from sweet and unassuming young lady to villainous mean girl.
Courtney never wanted to go back to St. Augustus and all it’s clinging pomp and circumstance. She much preferred pounding the pavement of the local public high school’s track and mixing with regular kids instead of rubbing elbows with the area’s elite and wealthy offspring. Despite her best efforts during the summer to convince him otherwise, Courtney’s position on her education is continually ignored by her father, who instead insists that she give St. Augustus a proper chance . . . leaving her at her dorm with mysterious words of how the school has more to offer than it may appear.
The girl with hair the vibrant color of heated flame has a hard time fitting in and seems to constantly be on the periphery of all things cool and accepted, no matter her built-in social status as an “alumni kid” or her best efforts at fitting in. Her older sister is consumed with her own educational advances and Courtney’s friends are both popular and full of blind confidence, seeming to magnify Courtney’s own teen insecurities. Pushed by these friends to fulfill a silly dare by entering the dark and forbidden West Woods, Courtney attempts to solidify a spot in the in-crowd by taking a trek through the forest that ignites chills and frights for anyone who passes by it.
In the forest Courtney finds a key, both mysterious in it’s nature and in it’s antique finish. And while her courageous entrance into the embrace of the bone-chilling trees didn’t push her further into the arms of the cool kids, it did give her a new goal — figure out what the key is used for, see if she can find the correlation it shares with the secretive old map her sister passed down to her via their father’s request, and finalize a plan that will allow her to slowly put the pieces of her life together, one shred at at time.
As Courtney begins to complete the puzzle of St. Augustus and it’s haunting riddles, she hunts down the enigmatic and fabled fountain, which leads her on a quest for its secrets as well. Making a complex and lofty wish, she watches with wonderment as her small world shifts and pushes her towards attainment of the things she asked for — sometimes even against her will or better judgement. But as the saying goes, you must always be careful what you wish for, and Courtney will soon learn that some things cannot be undone or unspoken.
The West Woods is a book widely being classified as young adult, but I would feel comfortable giving it a mid-grade genre level. The subject matter and writing is generously geared towards readers of ages 10 and up. Giving the prequel a 3.5 out of 5 stars, I can say that it was because I wanted more – more – more! Just when I felt that things were ramping up and the spooky gatherings were beginning to take full shape, the novel seemed to decline into an abrupt ending. Perhaps this was the author’s intent, as I am keen on reading The Fountain, it’s sequel. Although the books are issued as stand-alone, I am sure other readers will feel the same. I recommend The West Woods to young readers looking to sink into something of the ghostly nature just in time for the upcoming autumnal season, and for parents who are looking to share a novel with their child that will illustrate the perils and consequences of choosing wrong over right.