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It Will Just Be Us Jo Kaplan Main

"It Will Just Be Us" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Crooked Lane Books

it will just be us jo kaplan poster large

Written by Jo Kaplan
2020, 272 pages, Fiction
Released on 11th August 2020

Review:

If you’re on the hunt for a haunted house story from the top drawer, then look to further than Jo Kaplan’s It Will Just Be Us, which ticks just about every box. This subgenre is a very crowded marketplace, but this novel is so clever and effortlessly atmospheric it deserves to find a wide audience beyond the traditional horror crowd. It’s broody, twisty, and weaves lies and half-truths within the context of a very convincing first-person narrative which you will want to trust, but can never quite be sure whether you’re being sold a tall-tale or are part of a shared delusion.

I read a lot of haunted house stories and am probably harder to please than most reviewers, and one of the first features I look out for is the location; it’s crucial to the story, and how it is described plays a big part in developing the atmosphere of the plot. I’m also interested in the colour of the wallpaper; tell me is it peeling? How many bedrooms are there? Are the doors locked? I demand details. I want to be able to feel the presence of this house surrounding me in its mysteries as I read on, and for this Jo Kaplin scores a monster 10/10, as Wakefield Manor is one of the finest creations I’ve stumbled upon in a while. It is a monstrous creation which is vividly brought to life and described entirely through the eyes of Samantha Wakefield, the youngest of two daughters who live alone with their semi-hermit mother in the decrepit family home, which is in badly need or repair. I love the fact that three people can rattle around the house for days and never bump into each other and be very comfortable with it. The Wakefield clan are not exactly a normal family, and that’s part of the fun.

It Will Just Be Us has an outstanding opening which is guaranteed to suck you in from the first page. Samantha’s unhealthy interest in a room, which she has only ever known to be locked, will soon have you reading between the lines looking for the true reasons for its closure.  Why will her mother not give her a satisfactory reason why no key exists? Her mother is a mass of contradictions who speaks in riddles, uses tarot cards and has effectively dropped out of society since the death of Sam’s father some years earlier; another enticing strand connected to the wider story. The plot continually revolves around this room and Sam’s fascination with it and the reader is eagerly pulled along.

The story effortlessly moves through time periods and although it never explicitly says, Sam is probably aged around thirty in the present-tense storyline, but as she narrates, it moves backwards to her teenage years and earlier with a deliberately jarring train of thought. The reader has the impression she is telling her story, or a confession, to an unknown figure in the same room. This comes across as both very intimate and fragmented; at various times you’ll be hanging on Sam’s every word waiting for more. You’ll also be following the story very closely, just in case she contradicts herself, or drops an extra clue. It’s that kind of book. As the plot moves on, Sam gives lots of hints about herself, and after a very vague opening, the gaps are slowly filled with clever lightbulb moments.

Ghosts play a big part in It Will Just Be Us, but the plot cleverly bucks what you might find in the traditional haunted house tale by avoiding all clichés, as Sam is not scared of ghosts at all; she sees them all the time and they are part of her daily life.  This house is full of ghosts from different periods, portrayed almost as memories, many of which are dead relatives. Some wander randomly, others appear connected to certain rooms, but the core of the story revolves around the appearance of a new ghost Sam begins to see which acts slightly different to all the apparitions. This little boy can most definitely see her and is not at all friendly. This is a very clever development, as the familiar ghostly presences move from benign to something darker and the way in which this major part of the plot plays out is superb, with some great shrouding of the later developments.

The family part of the story is also convincing, and the arrival of temperamental, heavily pregnant elder sister Elizabeth, which introduces an intriguing new character to the action which also takes us out of Sam’s head slightly. Without Elizabeth the novel may have become too heavily reliant on one internal voice and after a terrible argument with her husband, she returns to the family home and Sam reflects upon their childhood together and time away from the house. Keep a close eye on what Elizabeth says, as it has a bearing on whether you believe Sam to be an unreliable narrator or not.

My only minor gripe of It Will Just Be Us is that it is relatively one paced. By the time I reached 80% on my Kindle I was expecting it to move up a gear. It did not do that, and although it has a very satisfying ending, it takes slightly too long getting there. I would not particularly call it a scary novel, atmospheric suits it better, but the introduction of the boy gives the story an edge and there is a superb  scene where she watches the child ghost pick apart an injured bird, which gives a fair indication that this spectre is of a different ilk from all the others.

It Will Just Be Us is a very stylish and original ghost story and although it may be a tad quiet for some tastes, if you’re a fan of thoughtful and atmospheric supernatural tales with a convincing narrative then you can’t go wrong. Highly recommended.

Grades:

Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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