Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Author: 
Emily Carroll (Illustrator)

Already well-known as a webcomic creator, Canadian author Emily Carroll makes her print debut with Through the Woods – a collection of five short illustrated stories of horror.

If you loved reading Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when you were a kid, this is your book. Carroll's comics are just disturbing enough to keep you reading but with an expressive style of illustration that is both simple and beautiful.


Among the subjects of Through the Woods:

 · A group of rural sisters, left alone by their father, who disappear one by one at night.
 · Two young friends who conduct sham séances until one is haunted by a very real apparition that only the other can see.
 · A young girl who meets her brother's bubbly and energetic new fiancée for the first time and discovers his paramour is far more sinister than she appears.

 

 
Each story in this collection reads like a fairy tale, set in a historic time and place that you just can't quite put your finger on. "His Face All Red," the only previously released story in the collection, earned Carroll the 2011 Joe Shuster Award for outstanding webcomic creator.


Of the five stories, "A Lady's Hands are Cold" strikes me as the weakest if only because it shows its inspiration too easily: Mix together the folktales of "Bluebeard" and "The Juniper Tree" and add a dash of "The Tell-Tale Heart." But even with that flaw, the story is a gorgeous piece of visual storytelling.
 
With the exception of the fairy-tale flavor, I think Carroll's writing style reminds me most of horror manga author Junji Ito – featuring open-ended story conclusions and consistently creepy undertones, though Carroll's illustrations are less visually disturbing than Ito's work. (I truly mean that as a compliment; Ito’s drawings left me with a few too many nightmares in my younger days.)

Simon and Schuster has marketed Through the Woods as a teen book. But in the vein of much of the young adult literature published nowadays, Carroll's stories are easily accessible to people of all ages and will be a quick and unsettling read for adults and teens alike.

You can read more of Emily Carroll's comics on her website, emcarroll.com.