Oh no, I thought. Another book about the legend of Sleepy Hollow. Horror of horrors. Why did I request this title on NetGalley, what was I thinking, etc. (Have I mentioned my pessimistic side likes to crawl out of its hole after bad experiences with books?)
I have taken damage when it comes to adapting The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in YA. Let’s call it “emotional reader trauma suffered from a bad book.” There’s another series on the market that deals with the haunting and the Hessian and takes place in Sleepy Hollow cemetery that I absolutely despise (which will go unnamed) but it broke me the first time I read it, and I’ve had a hard time trying to pull myself back together since.
You hear me? It. Broke. Me.
It’s been a long, difficult road back from that book, but I think I may have found the cure:
Wake the Hollow by Gaby Triana
I wished for Wake the Hollow by Gabby Triana on NetGalley because it was about to hit the market, and generally speaking, if its YA Horror with legend tripping or legend hacking, I really want to shed my previous negative experiences and try to rekindle my affection for the lore that fuels many a contemporary take on an old classic.
I requested it blindly. I did not have high hopes. I was very surprised indeed, because I really enjoyed Wake the Hollow by Gaby Triana. I enjoyed it so much that I read it all in one sitting.
That “other book that broke me” was a bad experience, but Wake the Hollow has rekindled my interest (and as a result I’m reading a biography on Mary Shelly, which I didn’t expect to be doing directly after finishing Wake the Hollow. I thought, as planned, I’d start on The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, or maybe Dawn Kurtagich’s latest, And the Trees Crept In. Surprise surprise: I was so inspired by finishing Wake the Hollow that I’ve gone down a completely different direction with my reading because I feel like a) I need to know more about the history that inspired the fiction b) I wasn’t aware — at all — that Washington Irving and Mary Shelly were rumoured to be “a thing.”
And yeah, there are ghosts in the book, and it’s creepy, and the atmosphere is lovely and grim, and the protagonist is of Cuban descent (so refreshing!), and the Hessian plays a part, and there’s a cemetery, and a derelict house belonging to the protagonist’s mother, and there are mysterious circumstances surrounding her mother’s death, and a cat named Coconut, and — I could go on. So much to love.
All the things I didn’t know about Washington Irving
I am not a huge Washington Irving fan. My recollection of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is fuelled by the Disney adaptation which scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid.
I recognize that there’s a place in New York called Sleepy Hollow which influenced the story, and I know Johnny Depp played Ichabod Crane in a super creepy adaptation by Tim Burton (which I have in my DVD collection someplace.)
I did not know that Washington Irving and Mary Shelly had a tryst (currently fact-checking this; don’t quote me on it.) I did not know that Irving’s infatuation with Spanish culture had him living in Spain for a time, nor did I know I could be so entertained by the gossip of long-dead authors.
In case you don’t know either of these people: Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein back in the 19th century, and Washington Irving is famous for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: that story with Icabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel and a headless horseman throwing flaming pumpkins around.
About the story
The mesh of the real world and the presuppositions that all these sordid things went on a hundred years back colours the current circumstances as we follow the protagonist, Micaela Burgos, as she arrives back in her birthplace of Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, New York from Miami where she’d lived with her father for several years following her parents’ divorce. Her mom stayed behind because her work and passions were rooted in the small town, and it’s with some reluctance that Micaela discovers she hasn’t returned to settle her mom’s affairs, but to discover how she actually died.
Micaela, unfortunately, suffers from hallucinations that are triggered by the town. The instant she sets foot on Sleepy Hollow soil, she starts seeing and hearing things: specters that aren’t there… but aren’t they really?
The story moves along at a quick clip, opening up multiple cans of worms that keep you wondering as the hallucinations become more real, and we are confronted with a multi-layered haunting and a genealogical treasure trove that feels like authorial speculation: did Washington Irving have an illegitimate child, and did he and Mary Shelly really get it on way back in the day?
There are former flames being fanned, former friends being jerks, and the shady townsfolk who have their own sordid dealings afoot.
Add a fun twist or two and some historical reference, and I went cavorting right through this story with joyous abandon. Tons of fun with just enough creepy to root it in the horror category, headless horseman included (but not so scary that even the most sensitive readers will have nightmares: then again, I’m hardened, so what do I know about sensitivity and horror? More ghosts! More rattling chains! Bring it on!)
I give it a jubilant three and a half stars, and I look forward to seeing what the author, Gaby Triana, comes up with next.