Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.
Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.
Title: The May Queen Murders
Author: Sarah Jude
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Rowan’s Glen is the kind of place you want to believe doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a clannish, backwoods village in the Ozarks of Missouri. It’s a place where outsiders aren’t welcome and don’t want to go anyway. Ivy and her cousin Heather have grown up in the Glen, traveling to town for school, and Ivy loves her home. But now there’s an uneasy feeling about the Glen. Dogs are going missing at an alarming rate and animals are turning up dead. A dog — one of the missing, — a goat, a horse.
There are stories of Birch Markle, a madman who lives in the woods. He was one of them until he disappeared into the woods twenty-five years ago. Some of the younger residents thought the stories were made up — but they’re all too real. You can hear his screams, deep in the woods, at night.
The May Queen Murders is more about the plot than the characters. The only character with any depth is Ivy. The rest are mostly there to play their parts in the larger story. I’m not sure if I even like Ivy. I definitely feel for her, with everything she goes through both before and especially after Heather disappears, but I don’t know if I like her. I don’t really care about her. I do like her romance with Rook, but that’s not given as much attention as her friendship with Heather or the horror story. And that’s fine; this is not that type of book.
Even before she goes missing, Heather’s pulling away. She’s keeping secrets, most importantly, she won’t tell Ivy who she’s in love with. While Ivy’s content to stay in the Glen, Heather wants to explore more of the outside world. It’s hard to read about Ivy trying desperately to cling to Heather all the while Heather is hiding so much. It’s deeper than the typical story about two friends growing apart, and it’s more tragic because the two are cousins and because one night Heather is just gone.
Like a lot of YA horror/mystery, I found The May Queen Murders lacking something. I’m not sure what it is, but if falls short of the mark, which is not to say I didn’t like it. I did, and I’m glad I read it. It’s very well-written, lack of character development aside. The setting of Rowan’s Glen is described so well. It’s a strange place, one that’s hard to imagine, but I can almost picture it from the descriptions. The ending, when the story behind the murders is finally revealed, is shocking and the twists just keep coming, one after another.