Saturday, October 7, 2023

Review: Deephaven by Ethan M. Aldridge

by Ethan M. Aldridge
Release Date: September 5, 2023
2023 Quill Tree Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-006328
Audiobook: B0BSS93TVK
Genre: Middle Grade / Horror / LGBT / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When Guinevere "Nev" Tallow receives an acceptance letter to the exclusive Deephaven Academy, they know it’s the fresh start that they’ve been looking for. But things are strange from the moment they arrive—the house itself seems to breathe, students whisper secrets in dark corridors, and the entire east wing of the academy is locked away for reasons no one wants to explain. And Nev knows something ragged stalks the shadowy corridors, something that sobs quietly and scratches at the walls, waiting to be released. With the help of another first-year student, Nev takes it upon themself to unravel the mysteries hidden in Deephaven's halls. But will they risk their fresh start to bring the academy’s secret to light?
My Thoughts
Deephaven is not a particularly scary story when it comes to middle grade horror, but it was certainly very atmospheric as it takes place at an academy for students with specialized talents and interests with all the usual tropes that goes along with such a setting. However, the plot moved along quickly and the author used those tropes to develop an interesting plot and fun characters, 

I thought the plot was well-developed, and the way the author creates a scene is really good. There is this focus on the little things which really enhance the overall enjoyment of the story and also makes you feel like you are there without being overly descriptive for a middle grade novel. The story moved along rather quickly, with an evenly-paced story, and enough twists and turns that made me read this in one sitting. I also enjoyed the illustrations that were included in each chapter as you got to experience what Nev actually saw and I think they added to the whole atmosphere of the story. It was really easy to figure out who were the villains in the story and I think even middle grade readers will have no problem figure it out as well so some of the tension that should have existed was not there because of this.  It is really unclear exactly how Deephaven works however, and while there were some hints at magical realism, a lot of it was vague and left you with many unanswered questions.

Nev is a great character and I appreciated having their background story sprinkled throughout the book. And while it was great for the author to have a nonbinary person as a main character, I don't think it had any impact on the story at all. You could have switched any character in that role and you wouldn't have known. Now while the author may have wished to downplay the role, it also made it difficult to really empathize with Nev because there was this barrier, this difficulty to understanding their motivations, no understanding as to how Nev felt as they were becoming this new person, so different from the life they just left, and how confusing it must have been to make that choice.  And the other children just accept the pronouns Nev used without a thought in the world.  Considering this story is set in the 1940s, I have a hard time accepting there would be little discussion around Nev's choices. However, readers may enjoy this escape from historical transphobia.  

The supporting characters were interesting as well, but I especially enjoyed Danny's character, a character who really pushed the others to develop and grow as well as take chances.  I love it when the supporting characters are given a chance to shine. 

Deephaven was a fun, somewhat spooky read, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.  It moved quickly, had interesting characters, and a story line that was engaging, but also gave me hope will continue into a sequel as so many things were left unanswered at the end, even if the ending was satisfying. This is definitely a book that many middle graders will enjoy.