Initial reaction: I might be the minority opinion on this one, but despite an interesting protagonist and beginning with intriguing details, the presentation of this mystery was severely disorganized and lacking for what it was trying to do. It took tangents that didn't really gel with the overarching story, and somehow I felt all the characters save for Julia were stereotypes. I feel like the ending was obvious and forced.
Hoo-boy. :( I'm kind of struggling in the aftermath of reading this book because I went into it liking the intrigue of it and the protagonist's voice, but by the time I reached the end, I was glad to be finished with it. I think my biggest problem with Kim Savage's "After the Woods" is that it, logically, doesn't make a bit of sense for a mystery or for the story presentation, even comes across as a bit offensive with how it tries to haphazardly divert attention from the main story and then loops back around to try to throw a few twists without much expansion to reach its ending and respective culprit. Granted, I know what it was trying to do, I know what it was going for, but it was a mess for execution and could've been so much better with tying details together and for overarching character development.
The base of the story involves the plight of Julia and Liv, two girls who were left in a harrowing encounter in the nearby woods. Julia ends up shoving Liv out of the way, allowing Liv to escape, but Julia ends up in a two day ordeal escaping from her would-be captor. Julia has a spotty memory from the trauma, even PTSD (which really would've been interesting if it was actually explored - sadly, not so much. I feel like many citations of mental illnesses got kicked to the curb for expansion in this book, but yet they're used as justification for some of the events that happened.)
I'll say this to give a big hint about the book without necessarily citing spoilers, if you think this is a story about Julia's experiences and grief, you will likely be sorely disappointed in this book. Yet Julia was the only character I really cared about in this book because of the lack of flesh of the surrounding cast of characters. Some of them were interesting, I'll admit, but I didn't really feel like I was ever immersed in their motivations and some just came across as glaring stereotypes (i.e. Alice). There were even some characters that appeared only to disappear for much of the narrative and then stick back up like a sore thumb when the narrative came to its climax. I wasn't sold by the way this narrative went from focusing on the mystery, to trying to divert attention by shifting to random elements to evoke suspicion or weirdness (i.e. Liv going on a completely random tangent by calling Russian women whores and labeling Shane's mother as such), then popping back up with the mystery with things that were obvious red flags, but had no guesswork as to the foreshadowing and development of motivations behind the characters' actions.
This frustrated the ever-loving heck out of me, and I was disappointed since the narrative had a really strong start and premise. It felt like it lost steam as it went on, then threw the ending just to have a half-hearted twist. I wasn't convinced by it, and it's hard for me to see the appeal when it was such a slog to get through after a time just to reach that ending, despite knowing what it was going for.
On the whole, it was underwhelming, to be honest, and I've a feeling I'm being more generous with it than I should be. I liked the idea of it, but the execution - on the whole - left much to be desired.
Overall score: 2/5 stars.