"The Girl Who Hid in the Trees" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Independently Published

Written by Steve Stred
2019, 93 pages, Fiction
Released on 28th February, 2019


The prologue of The Girl Who Hid in the Trees takes us back to 1884 and the brutal murder of a young child before the story jumps forward into present time and we head into territory familiar to any connoisseur of horror: the haunted forest. Such spooky settings have been used in hundreds of novels and is nothing new; but don’t let that put you off, there is much to enjoy in Steve Stred’s shortish novella which breathes new life into this familiar story. In reality, I felt it could easily have been expanded into a much more substantial work. I was both surprised and disappointed when it ended abruptly around 70% into the Kindle version, just as the story was warming up nicely with a terrific final chapter. The remaining 30% of reading time is padded with three short stories which fail to have the same impact as The Girl Who Hid in the Trees.
The plot, narrated by fourteen-year-old Jason, is dominated by McConnell Forest, which sprawls across the area close to where he and his friends all live. Over the years many people have disappeared, including hitchhikers, lovebirds and children, in the supposedly haunted forest, which is a local urban legend. However, some myths have more truth behind them than others and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that McConnell Forest is the real deal, with parents making sure their kids do not venture far after dark. 
Following the prologue, the novella opens with a powerful chapter, flipping back six years earlier to when Jason was eight and longing to hang out with his elder brother Mikey and play Nintendo. Instead, Mikey and his friends head into the forest to debunk the ghost story and is never seen alive again. Jason is left holding the Nintendo console he knows his brother will never play with again.  Once the ruined bodies are discovered, wild animals are suspected, but Jason never believes this version of events.
By the time Jason turns fourteen, he begins to investigate the deaths in the local library and sucks his own group of friends into the mystery. Of course, they all think this is good fun and a bit of a laugh, but things take a much darker turn when they naively (stupid! stupid! stupid!) enter the forest. The Girl Who Hid in the Trees covers a lot of ground; first love, friendship and loss with some style, and you’ll be pleased when Jason hooks up with his best friend Vanessa. I noticed one listed review comparing this to Stephen King’s IT, which is both a stretch and over-the-top and ultimately does Steve Stred no favours. There are similarities – a group of kids battle an ancient evil – but I don’t think even King himself would claim to have created this well-travelled plot-line. This is a decent story but should not be compared to modern masterpieces which are about a thousand pages longer.
The plot darkens very quickly and that is another reason I feel it could have been longer, with more pacing and atmosphere thrown into the mix. If any writer wants advice on how to develop tension, fear and atmosphere, then read Adam Nevill’s The Ritual, which does it over a hundred nail-bitingly slow pages. The author states in the endnotes he wrote it very quickly, so perhaps there is more scope for development, particularly when the kids hit the forest and things escalate very fast, perhaps too quickly? It does lead to a viciously dark sequence, and I was surprised that what is in many ways a coming-of-age story turns so bleak that quickly. 
The three short stories which follow are an anti-climax. “The Tooth Collector” is the best of the three, with a family’s life disintegrating when they hear their son speaking to someone in their basement. “The Navajo Nightmare” is a western horror and “Abraham, Look to the Sky” is a vaguely cosmic horror story, neither tale did much for me. Steve Stred mentions in his entertaining endnotes that the “Tooth Collector” was rejected from a few places and I can’t say I’m surprised. However, this collection is still worth checking out for The Girl Who Hid in the Trees


Overall: threestars Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
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.
Other articles by this writer


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