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Through the Woods

Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
McElderry Books, July 2014
Reviewed from final copy

Just yesterday, we had our annual visit from an NYPL teen librarian to get students public library cards and do a bunch of booktalks. The book that got the strongest reaction? Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods. Both classes had teens verbally enjoying the spooky pictures (and one class had a quick debate about the appropriate audience. “Picture books can be for all ages,” said one very wise teen). With 3 stars, blurbs from Kate Beaton and Lucy Knisley, and beautiful art and writing, these five short stories will suck you in.

The outstanding elements here are the art and design. The pictures are detailed, creepy and disturbing. The design — flowing, floating panels, captivating and fantastic two page spreads, and twisted, scrawled words — add to the feeling of unease. A number of visual motifs weave the five stories together: woods all over the place; people traveling; many girls in cloaks; teeth, teeth, and blood. Carroll’s images are shocking and memorable: vicious scratches on an arm, teeth tearing apart a piece of meat, mouth opening and teeth parting to reveal the monster inside. The repeated images pull the stories together visually and thematically.

Carroll’s words are sparse but effective and evocative: “Each night it bled through the halls of her new home, a low keening that seeped from the floors, walls, stairs, ceilings…from the house’s very bones.” The sentences are poetic and interesting, and are beautifully arranged on the page, interacting with the pictures, twining in and out of the panels.

But what’s strongest about the collection could make it vulnerable in RealCommittee discussion. The visual elements, the design elements, are where this title’s strengths lie. Will committee members be willing to concede reliance on visual literacy when there are so many strong (and more traditional) titles to consider? And even more importantly, this is a strong year for graphic novels. Will Through the Woods stand out enough to take a medal? I would guess no (my money’s still on This One Summer)…but I’ve been wrong before!

About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.


  1. Karyn Silverman says

    I thought this was marvelous. Not so much a graphic novel as a picture book for teens and adults, compelling and original. Also genuinely scary and beautiful. There were a few moments where it faltered — I had trouble following the story at least once, although without a copy in front of me I can’t recall which one. However, even with that flaw i continue to think about this one. I feel like its a long shot because it’s such an original package but I would applaud a committee willing to recognize it!

  2. I just read this 2 nights ago. I only meant to read the first story, but ended up staying up to read them all. I was surprised at how effectively creepy they were, especially since the endings were generally pretty ambiguous as to what exactly had happened. I can see that being a problem for some readers, but I liked that about them. The art was beautiful and the colors were amazing – some of the pages were frame-worthy on their own, such as the image of the wife standing before the vast blue wall in the second story, and some of the images stick with me, like the face of the brother in the last panel of the third story and the clicking teeth of the last one. I even loved the intro and conclusion bits as much as the stories. While it has very varied influences (from straight fairy tale to Victorian ghost story to classic Japanese horror manga) the stories do have a similar feel that both reinforces a growing sense of creepiness if you read it in one go, but also serves to blend them together a bit and make them less memorable individually. I think a lot of teens would like it but I also think it might be difficult to convince some to give it a try as it is very unique in its style.

    • Sarah Couri says

      I do agree about the blur, Ben — but I, too, read it in one go. I wonder what it’s like as a reread?

      • Karyn Silverman says

        I don’t know that I agree. I mean yes, an emotional/pulse rate blur, but I remember the stories as distinct entities, or at least as a series of scary moments distinct from one another. I think it’s a testament to the collection as a whole that it builds one way as a straight read but could also be sampled a la carte, as it were, for a different experience.

      • Kazia Berkley-Cramer says

        I actually just re-read it for an assignment and (for me, at least) it definitely holds up. Sure, the initial shock of some of the page turns has worn off slightly, but knowing what’s coming doesn’t take away from the horror. I found that the ambiguity that Ben P wasn’t so keen on actually works in its favor, as you can re-read and still imagine multiple endings without too much resolution. Plus, the core of what makes THROUGH THE WOODS so spectacular is still there: the suspense, the gorgeous art and design, and the spare but beautifully crafted writing.

        • Kazia Berkley-Cramer says

          I forgot to note: both times I read it, I read it in one sitting and didn’t find the stories to blur together at all in either reading. I’m intrigued that this wasn’t the experience for everyone!


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