Iconic villainess Lady Macbeth once said, “Out, damned spot!” — subsequently acknowledging the blood on her hands despite never having lifted so much as a pinky during the string of murders in 11th century Scotland. Flash forward to the 21st century and Wyatt Green’s conscious appears to be saying something similar, though not in so many words. The question is why.
It’s rare for me to pick up a novel, experience every emotion ever, and yet not enjoy said novel. But The Violent Season is truly a rare find in the young adult genre. That’s not to say Sara Walters’ debut thriller is bad. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
At first glance, The Violent Season has a vibe similar to The Purge with undertones of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak — neither of which are fun, light-hearted, or enjoyable stories, and yet both of which have made memorable marks in their respective mediums. Such is what I anticipate will be the case with The Violent Season.
If Walters’ goal was to hold up a mirror to the ugly, oozing wound that is the human condition, then she succeeded. Much like its backdrop of late Vermont autumn, The Violent Season is bitter, biting, and brutal in its examination of violence, abuse, and toxic relationships.
However, should readers expect to come out on the other side of this novel with trite platitudes, think again. Walters isn’t interested in moralistic falsities and it shows in her cast of guilty characters — no one more so than protagonist and self-proclaimed “cigarettes and cuss words” personified Wyatt Green.
Wyatt is the type of main character you feel for. The Violence Season takes place almost a year after Wyatt’s mother was brutally murdered in their family home in small-town Wolf Ridge, Vermont. Along with the blood-soaked memory of discovering her mother’s body, Wyatt can’t get her town’s urban legend out of her head. As the possibility of bloodshed continues to loom, it becomes even harder for Wyatt to separate legend from reality when November after November she’s watched another teacher, neighbor, or classmate succumb to a violent death.
However, as sympathetic of a protagonist she may be, Wyatt is not without her flaws. Accountability is a crucial theme in the novel, with Wyatt struggling to hold her best friend Cash accountable for his abusive actions. But Wyatt fails to take responsibility for her own actions — even more so following the shocking twist at the end of The Violent Season.
This twist is where Walters really shines as an up-and-coming author in the horror-thriller genre as she concludes an already convoluted novel with an equally as convoluted ending that offers no easy answers. All that remains in the final pages of The Violent Season is confronting the fact that sometimes the demons you see in others are also in you.
Walters’ writing is emotional and eerie. The story she tells is complex and cryptic. The Violent Season is exactly the type of tale readers will want to stay up late flipping through on All Hallows’ Eve. Because monsters and ghouls can’t hold a candle to Sara Walters’ debut; because the dark isn’t as scary as what’s lurking inside.
Inside all of us, of course, is a mess of blood and bone. But deeper than that is the distinct ability to be both good and bad — and this is the tell-tale heart beating under the floorboards of every Wolf Ridge home. It’s the underlying conflict Walters has planted in the center of The Violent Season that’s sure to leave readers unsettled, unsatisfied, and demystified.
There isn’t much else to say about The Violent Season without giving away another crucial plot point. If anything else, don’t say I didn’t warn you because never have I meant it more when I say: read if you dare.
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