BOOK REVIEW: Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand (4 Stars) #FFFebruaryReads

Cover of Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, depicting a young woman with a mass of hair falling in her face and white moths crawling over her

Rating: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5)

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

I’m not usually a horror reader because I don’t enjoy gore, violence, or even just being scared. I mainly picked up Sawkill Girls because of the promise of queer girl representation to read as part of my F/F February Reading Challenge, which I’m also using as motivation to read outside my usual confines. The promise of queer girls was more than fulfilled, and I ended up enjoying this for what it was as well, so this was a definite success.

However, this book does contain some pretty dark and heavy stuff. I’m putting all of the trigger warnings I can think of after this paragraph in transparent text. If you want or need more detail, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. SPOILERS TW parental death, sibling death, suicidality (parent and other), abduction and brutal murder of teenage girls, gore, sexual abuse (implied), emotional and physical abuse (parental and other) END SPOILERS

Sawkill Girls treads the line between horror and magical realism, and especially at the beginning, it is sometimes hard to tell what is real and what isn’t. Marion’s visions and dreams are confusing and unsettling, but they are consolidated into a terrifying reality. I do think that the mystery would have been more compelling if it had been more contained, both in terms of POV and location. I feel that including Val’s POV took away some of the mystery, and the reveal of a world-spanning battle against evil, complete with a secret organisation, was a bit much.

I did love the girls and their relationships though. I found it really refreshing that Zoey immediately believed Marion when she shared her experiences with her, and that the girls didn’t invalidate each other even when confronted with the unbelievable.

All three girls were wonderful, strong and interesting in their own ways. The book accompanies all three of them on a journey of finding their strength and standing up for themselves, while navigating friendship and love. The romance between Marion and Val was really sweet. Their attraction to girls is quite clear in the text, and there’s a lovely sex scene between the two of them. They are both explicitly WLW, although neither of their sexualities is spelled out. I believe that Marion, at least, is bisexual, and the author actually mentions the word, and not in a derogatory manner! I wish that wasn’t still so exceptional, but since it is, I felt it important to mention.

And speaking of spelling out queer orientations: Zoey is explicitly asexual, and it’s great. There is some acephobia in the book, and even though it is thoroughly called out, I couldn’t help but feel a bit upset by it. I’m ready for more asexual acceptance rep! We can be just as happy with and proud of our orientations as everybody else is, and I’d like to see more of that. I would also have loved to see some more ethnic diversity because even though Zoey is black, she and her father are the only people of colour in Sawkill Girls as far as I am aware.

Nevertheless, this was really enjoyable and I was surprised by how much I didn’t want to put it down! It was also upsetting for my sensitive little self, so please heed the content warnings! Overall, this was an amazing story about female friendship, wlw romance, and finding and combining strengths.

Hope, she thought, breathing with the tide, was a choice that only those with resolute hearts dared to make.

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