A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben
Publisher: Word Horde | Release Date: March 26, 2019 | Pages: 245 pages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Carrie Laben’s debut novel, A Hawk in the Woods, is a deep dive into family bonds and the burden of powers on two sisters. It’s also a road trip story that is plagued by killer hawks and body shifting that leaves you not fully sure who you can trust. A lot is thrown at us in the first half of the book, but once you get into the groove it all clicks and becomes something a lot more horrifying than expected.
Laben quickly puts us into two different narratives that follow the past and present of Abby and Martha Waite. In the present we follow Abby and Martha on a road trip to their family cabin in Minnesota. The past has us witnessing the development of their family’s special gifts as they grow up with their mother and grandfather. As we progress through these storylines we discover that everything is not what it seems and that sometimes you shouldn’t trust those you are closest with.
Having dual stories to follow did make for a lot of information to take in, and at first it almost seemed like too much. I found myself flipping back and forth through the pages to make sure I didn’t miss something or to see if I was understanding a what appeared to be a big reveal. I’m all for keeping the reader on their toes, it creates suspense, makes the story feel larger, and keeps us from guessing what is going to happen. However, I do think there is a point where it feels like an overload of information. Laben does a decent job keeping the story on the right side of that line, answering the big questions and leaving some of it as a mystery. I just needed to accept that I wasn’t missing anything important and to trust Laben.
Weaving the past and the present into almost two different stories is an interesting way to give us backstory while not just dumping a bunch of info in our laps. Each chapter is split into the present and the past with Laben doing a wonderful job of answering some questions we have while also laying the groundwork for the end story. I appreciate that she didn’t have her characters do something in a chapter and then tell us here’s how they were able to do it or this is why something happened. The mystery of Abby’s plan and our forays into their past is what keeps us moving along through the present. I’d love to see if Laben had a huge graph or timeline built to guide her through the different sections, because it’s amazing how they all build off each other to make the later half of the book as strong as it is.
The characters we follow are complicated, frustrating, and not your typical heroes. Laben seems to find joy in making us feel sorry for Abby and Martha while at the same time dislike them for how they treat others and themselves. At the start of the story we discover that Abby has cancer, but we also find that she has something secret planned for her sister. Through the two narratives we are not sure if we should like Abby, but at the same time we can’t help but feel for her. Her family life taught her to defend herself and not trust anyone. So as we witness Abby’s treatment of her sister and others we believe that she doesn’t have the best intentions. Yet, don’t believe everything you are given because when the ending came I was shocked and a little mad at myself for not seeing it. I think Laben did an amazing job keeping us on our toes and making Abby a truly human character.
A Hawk in the Woods is an excellent book that I couldn’t put down. The interesting characters and twisty plot created a mystery that will keep you constantly guessing at what will happen next. Laben’s strong prose and expert handling of dual storylines is mesmerizing. This book will sink its hook into your flesh and won’t let go until you finish the last word.