Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
By April Genevieve Tucholke
August 15, 2013
Ages 14 and up
Dial / Penguin USA
Reviewed: ARC from Publisher
You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…
Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.
While beautifully crafted, BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by April Genevieve Tucholke leaves me between a rock and a hard place when it comes to drafting my review of the book. As much as I wanted to enjoy the dark and unsettling atmosphere of the story, one of which I would typically salivate all over, too many unrealistic conveniences and a complete disconnect between me and the characters kept me from fully immersing myself into the book. But I can see why others enjoy this book. Unsettling things tend to attract but, unfortunately for me, there were too many things that detracted from my overall enjoyment…
The story starts off with a pair of siblings whom have been abandoned by their free spirited, artistic parents. Their parents have flitted off to some place in Europe before the book even begins. Our main character Violet White (Really? Violet White? Who names their kids this? Wait. Parents + Artists = Colors. I get it, I guess…) and her brother Luke are left with a large house and no money… Seriously? Leaving their two children aged 17 and younger all alone for months on end? This is where the first of my problems begin… Violet and Luke are not the only underage kids in this book with non-existent parents. A lack of parents in YA is a huge problem for me, and to conveniently have practically every parent in a single novel out of the picture? That’s an even bigger problem. But their abandonment opens way to the entrance of the romantic interest – and possible Devil in disguise – River. River stops by their house early in the novel in order to rent the guesthouse on Violet’s property; thus, providing a bit of an income for the siblings and, thus, implicating himself into their lives…
I did not trust River one bit. Violet did not trust River one bit. Whereas Violet could so easily push aside any qualms she has about River (over and over and over again…) I could not. I wanted to whack Violet over the head every time she said, “I don’t care…” (And she says it so often, she probably would have ended up in the hospital with a massive concussion halfway through the book.) Plain and simple, I did not trust River West. (River West? Again with the name thing… We also have a Sunshine in this book, guys!)
To make matters worse, there is the most INSTA of insta-love going on in BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA. Regardless of the fact that there could be some supernatural reasons for the insta-love, it is such a large part of the story that I can’t help but say that, Houston, we have a problem. I never, not in the entire length of the novel, felt any real connection between Violet and River – not romantically, nor even on a “friendship” level. When it comes to these two, things just seem to “happen”. Then, when explanations are finally given as to their “connection”, I found that I liked whatever this “relationship” was that they had so much less because the explanation made their relationship seem even less real... Arghhhh!!!
And Violet – what a frustrating character she is… I hate to make comparisons, but Violet is the first true “Bella Swan” that I have come across since reading about Bella Swan and her “old soul” ways. The only reason I even bring up this comparison is because Violet somehow takes the “old soul” thing a step further. Throughout the book she constantly refers to her dead grandmother (who was apparently the only real friend she had ever had in her life). She wears her grandmother’s clothes, hears her voice inside her head and obsessively seeks out some letters that her grandmother had supposedly stashed away before she died. Violet is a bit of a snob, she enjoys old movies and she frequently speaks like someone from the early 1900′s. She does not understand her “normal” teenage brother (who, on more than one occasion, gave me flashbacks of Drew Barrymore’s brother in 50 First Dates), she has never has a boyfriend, etc… Yup, Violet is an “old soul” through and through. While some may see Violet as charming and an inspiration, I found her to be contrived and dull.
But oh! does this debut author know how to WRITE. When it comes to her overall writing style, or creating tension and setting a scene, the author has that ability down to a creeptastic art. I was overjoyed every time a little kid in Echo did something super unusual, I was chilled to the bone when voices were heard in the night and when dreams or visions became someone’s reality. We’re talking The Shining levels of creepiness here, guys, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA has got all that and then some.
So it is unfortunate (to me) that the book had to end in what I could only explain as a 1990′s teen slasher film kind of way. This may sound appealing to some, but not so much to this reader, who thought that the ending was slightly out of place compared to the overall atmosphere of the rest of the novel.
…Alas, in the end the parents finally return to the scene and all the Devilish fun goes away. At the end of the day we are left with so many questions. What about the true origins of the evil that exists? Why did the author feel the need to include a convoluted family “bloodlines” subplot within her novel? What’s going to become of these characters? I assume that BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA is the first in what will undoubtedly become a series, as there is so much left to be answered. Whether or not I will be continuing with the series will depend on how much I care in another year.
At this point? Outlook not so good.