Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre
A dark, romantic YA suspense novel with an SF edge and plenty of drama, layering the secrets we keep and how appearances can deceive, from the New York Times bestselling author.
In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found. When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right?
Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind. To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried…
I read Like Never and Always last year and didn’t think it could get weirder than that. But Heartwood Box might have beat it for me. Ann Aguirre writes the strangest books and I really like how her mind works.
This book is such a mix of genres. It has a mystery, it’s a thriller at times, there is some sci fi, some historical fiction, ghost story, and some romance. I’ll do my best to write what I can without giving anything away.
Araceli moves in with her great aunt for her senior year. She usually travels with her parents, but they’re going to Venezuela and they want Araceli safe. They also think it will help her to go to college in the US. Things are odd right away. Araceli’s aunt, Ottilie, is living in a very old fashioned house. Stepping into it felt like stepping back in time. Everything is old and a bit run down. Ottilie’s husband disappeared twenty years earlier. She stays with the hopes that he’ll come home. Ottilie feels like he’s near and even leaves food out for him every night. Araceli quickly realizes that the house is strange and may be haunted. There are cold spots and a light turns on by itself.
It turns out that the town is full of missing posters. People have been disappearing for about twenty years, never to be seen again. The warning is to stay away from the ghost lights in the woods. Never follow them or you won’t come back.
Araceli finds a box at her Aunt’s with an old letter hidden in the bottom. It was written pre world one by a boy named Oliver. On her first day of school, Araceli is given an assignment to write a letter to someone. She decides to write to Oliver and places the letter in the box. When she goes to get it out in the morning, it’s gone. Later, a new letter appears from Oliver. He replied to her. At first, Araceli thinks someone is playing a joke. But she starts having weird dreams of a boy she knows is Oliver. He is the only one that can see her in the dreams. Araceli and Oliver continue to write while Araceli decides to research more about WW1.
When Araceli’s friend disappears, she decides to take action. Araceli believes this research compound is involved, but she needs to find a way in. Her friend and neighbor, Logan, helps her get close and she sees how secure it is. In fact, they are chased away by security. This is when Araceli realizes that these people will kill to keep their secrets.
I loved the group of friends and Araceli’s aunt. Logan was a favorite of mine. So much happens after this that I can’t mention, but it was fast paced and hard to put down. While there were some issues with the older communication (it didn’t always feel authentic), the author explains why she used less slang in the author’s note.
I gave this book 4 1/2 stars (rounded up to 5). Thank you to Tor Teen for sending me a copy for review.
Warnings for parental abuse, racism, and unknown disappearances, even of young children.
Have you read anything by Ann Aguirre? Is Heartwood Box on your TBR?