You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town… until River West comes along. River rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. 

Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more?

Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery... who makes you want to kiss back. 

Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.

"Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea" was a little bit like a one-night stand (or what I imagine a one-night stand to be like). It starts out good, escalates into something even better, peaks to the best of your expectations, but then you come down from the high, you're hungover and confused, and you're left to contend with the fuzzy aftermath.

Mild spoilers ahead.

Violet and her twin brother Luke were raised by their grandmother in a dilapidated mansion by the sea. It's not that they don't have parents, they do. Their parents just seem to care more about Parisian galleries and exhibitions at Côte d'Azur than they do their children. So when their grandmother dies and the family money runs out, Violet decides to rent out the guesthouse in hopes of staying afloat financially.

In comes River West. He fashions origami bookmarks out of 100$ bills. He knows his way around a kitchen. He loves classic movies, holds his own in any discussion and seems to exude charm and confidence. What's more, for the first time in Violet's life, she's found someone who will stand up for her against her bully of a brother and her less-than-stellar friend(s), someone who will side with her in arguments and hold her hand while doing it.

But there's a glitch. (Isn't there always?) River's skill in the kitchen is evenly matched with his skill at evading answers to direct questions. For every time he sides with Violet, there are five instances where he will lie to her face without batting an eyelid. And for all the financial security he provides, Violet can't fail to notice that his arrival into her life coincides with the time when all hell breaks loose in the small town where she lives. Coincidence? Not likely.

Violet's attitude toward this set of circumstances is what I had the hardest time reconciling. On the one hand, Violet is more perceptive (and certainly more intuitive) than your average YA heroine: she takes note of every peculiarity of River's the instant they present themselves, and she chalks nothing up to coincidence. A bunch of kids start thinking chasing the Devil they thought they saw in the graveyard, just at the time River disappeared for a few hours? It's likely connected! Violet doesn't hesitate to draw a parallel (nor is she at any point blinded by love, as the synopsis suggests). She doesn't even doubt River's involvement. But River has a way of making her calm and untroubled in his arms. She can't fight it, exactly. Only (and this is the "on the other hand" part) when she does realize that around River, her willpower is not her own, she still does nothing to stop him from manipulating her emotions and thoughts. And even as River confesses to murders left-and-right, even as she suspects him of monstrous, terrifying acts (and he doesn't deny having done them), she still fails to make a single move to protect herself, her brother or anyone around her from the boy she is starting to hate and perceive as the Devil personified... literally.

River and Violet, however, do make a lot of sense individually, as characters. So do many of the side characters throughout the novel. There was no shortage of character development, though in many cases, it came too late in the story for it to do any real good.

Which brings about the real issue I had with this book: the ending. Throughout the story it becomes apparent that even River's influence (and insanity) goes only so far and that something even more insidious is going down, through someone else's influence. As is natural, the reader begins to suspect everyone from a benevolent brother to an ominously-named neighbor, to a 10 year-old boy. Speculation abounds, and the story takes on a mysterious aspect, where the reader struggles to unravel the mystery. If not River, then who?

Deus ex machina, that's who!

I wouldn't venture so far to deem the ending anti-climactic, because there was no shortage of drama or (intended) chaos. But the revelations made at the ending are the kind no one could have seen coming. River, certainly, needed to be redeemed for at least part of the deeds done, so the romance of the story would continue to make sense. What the reader expects is for another character to be thrown under the bus in order for this to come about.

What the reader gets is a whole other story.

On the down side, therefore, the final 15-20% is a bit of a letdown. I felt like there was also an abundance of issues raised but left undealt with (sexism left-and-right and a strange kind of bias against redheaded people were only some of them), or intended for the sequel to tackle. On the other hand, the almost Hitchcockian feel to the sleepy town of Echo is a beautiful enough setting to keep you glued to the pages throughout. The book is chockfull of references to classics (both the movies and the books), the writing is captivating and has that quality where almost every detail becomes pertinent at one point or the other. "Between the Devil and the Deep, Blue Sea" is the kind of read that demands attention to detail, and a very open mind at all times. (And perhaps just a dash of the suspension of disbelief.)


- Lexie