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  • Mandy McHugh

Girls of Brackenhill, Kate Moretti: A Review

I have to admit: I have a soft spot for books set in my area. Doesn't matter if it's the fringes of the capital district, I will most definitely read it. When I read the summary and saw Girls of Brackenhill was set in a castle in the Catskills, I immediately requested it.

When Hannah receives word in the middle of the night that her estranged Aunt Fae has been in a car accident, she and her fiance make the four-hour drive to her twice-summer home, a castle hidden in the Castkills, to handle affairs. Shortly after they arrive, Fae dies, and with her death, Hannah finds herself in the middle of multiple investigations. Was her aunt's death an accident, or was something more sinister at play? Caught in between multiple situations, the past and present vie for control, forcing Hannah to delve into the mysterious disappearance of not just her sister, but multiple girls in the small town. And all the while, the castle calls to her, drawing her into its darkness. So, while this book is set in Upstate NY, this had a southern Gothic feel. From the sprawling castle, elaborate, rich architecture, decades of ghosts, family secrets, and the small-town rumor mill, this hit all the notes of a southern family saga. I quite liked that aspect and was more interested in the overarching mysteries than the more immediate question of whether Fae's death was an accident, murder, or suicide (although, admittedly, suicide never really seemed to be in the scope of possibility). A strange cast of characters with secrets, Moretti did a wonderful job with Hannah's flashbacks to the two summers of youth spent at Brackenhill, interweaving the drama to fully develop characters who never get voices of their own. Hannah was a flawed, conflicted character dealing with guilt, grief, and a never-ending period of transition. Stagnant and left without closure, she realizes that while she's built a life in Virginia with Huck, there's something keeping her from feeling fully alive. Most of the internal conflict revolves around these issues: Hannah persuading herself to return to Virginia, Hannah questioning her love for Huck, Hannah trying to figure out what really happened to her sister. At times, her back and forth felt daunting and a little repetitive. Her struggle is quite clear from the first few pages, and having her search for validation continuously, from every character she talks to, felt desperate and unnecessary. Then again, that's exactly how I would characterize Hannah, so possibly this is the point of her constant need for approval to stay. Brackenhill itself is very much its own character. It reminded me of the Mohonk Mountain House, and because of this, Moretti's imagery felt especially realistic and beautiful. This is an area where she thrives, as certain scenes are described so crisply and vividly that it felt like I was in the room with the characters. I most appreciated the basement, a labyrinthine void I would've loved to see more of. If you're a fan of visual novels with haunting backstories, this is going to be the book for you. Complex and nostalgic, Girls of Brackenhill is a wonderful take on a coming-of-youth ghost story spanning generations. Thank you to Thomas and Mercer and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for review consideration.

 

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