The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

I’ve been craving a YA voice that I can love for so long and finally, after picking up this book, I found it. There’s something so refreshing and familiar about Penny. The familiarity of the small town girl with a suspenseful storyline is chilling and welcoming, easy to fall into, and it pairs so well with the immediacy of the 200-year-old myth that haunts the town she lives in. But it’s engagement with the myth sets it apart from other YA texts that I read, the plot reminiscent of witchy mythology rarely written about, much like those three witches so prevalent to the story of Macbeth.

The modern take on this myth gives it a refreshing element, and makes it easier to believe. We engage with it all through Penny, a girl so familiar with the tragedies around her that she becomes desensitised to it, much like the rest of the town who play into the season of the witches, profiting from the tourist attraction but angered by the deaths they welcome. It’s an interesting contrast that truly interrogates the greed and humanity of people in the town, the descendants of people who drowned suspected witches, now profiting off the deaths of loved ones.

“Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

 Two centuries ago, in the small, isolated town, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town. Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return from the depths, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbour and pulling them down to their watery deaths.”

It was worrying to believe that a small town with so much trauma would play so heavily into it as a tourist attraction. Kids are so reckless and daring that they disregard the centuries of danger they’ve faced to indulge in a moment of excitement. But not only is it this indulgence that is so ridiculously human and predictable, but the following witch hunt. So many people play into the fun of the murder history, but then when the deaths begin again, they threaten to kill any girl they suspect of the same treachery they open themselves up for.

One of my favourite things about this book was Shea Ernshaw’s engagement with the landscape. I adore the way the ocean is invoked and the town plays such a beautiful part in the story. The island was astounding and I could almost feel the chill rolling in from the ocean whenever Penny was standing on its shores. Ernshaw’s flair for description was beautiful. The tone of the novel was captured wonderfully in the mix of emotion and nature.

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