Thriller meets coming-of-age in Girl in the Walls, a debut novel from A.J. Gnuse that put me through a rollercoaster of emotions.
Eddie and his family have moved into a new house in good ole New Orleans. Just as the Mason family has begun to settle in, Eddie senses it: someone, or something, is in their house, watching. But even as the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, he feels no harm will come to him or his family. That is, until Eddie’s older brother, Marshall, approaches him with similar suspicions, soon convincing him that they are actually in grave danger. As the brothers try to rid their home of the heinous creature that haunts them, they unknowingly welcome an even greater evil through the front door.
Little do the brothers know, the ominous presence they feel is just a young girl named Elise, and this house was her home long before it was theirs. Recently orphaned and now completely alone, Elise did what any grief-stricken child would do: she returned to the last place that felt like home. The only problem is that another family had moved in. This was but a minor issue because Elise knows every every nook, cranny, and creak of her home. Existing within the house as a ghost is a piece of cake for Elise, it’s only when those silly Mason brothers introduce a new kind of danger that things start to go wrong.
Girl in the Walls had me reaching out of my comfort zone a bit, as I don’t usually go for thrillers. When I do, I rarely get legitimately scared, but A.J. Gnuse managed to strike fear in me while the Mason brothers experience unexplainable noises and the feeling of someone watching. The language he uses to describe how the boys feel perfectly encapsulates what I experience when I feel I'm being watched. The house itself is also rightfully scary: new to the boys but structurally old, lots of random creaking that comes with old houses, and hiding spots galore. The setting and syntax are scary enough on their own, but what didn’t help to quench my fear was that I read before bed, in my dark room, in my 1926 creaky house. Never before have I felt that kind of fear while reading in my home, but Gnuse put the idea in my head: someone could be living in my house, in my walls. While the reality of this happening is very, very slim to none, Gnuse's writing made the story seem like a plausible scenario, which is why I think it scared me so much.
Lucky for me, I was never scared for long, as Gnuse switches perspectives throughout the story, and focuses more on Elise’s point of view. While reading about a lost, lonely 11 year old girl, all feelings of fear vanish. Elise is just trying to survive in a world where those who loved her most are gone. Gnuse did a wonderful job of writing in a somber tone that accompanies the loss of loved ones, while also portraying the innocence and fragility of a child. Elise does find moments of happiness, however, from small pleasures, like getting to keep an abandoned book, or finding her mom’s lost sock behind the dryer.
Indulging in the joy of simple moments is a lesson that I’m still trying to learn, but unlike Elise, I think I’ll continue to do so outside my walls.
Girl in the Walls will leave coming of age and thriller fans alike wanting more from A.J. Gnuse.
Casey Larsen is an avid reader, but if you ask her what her favorite book is, you will likely get a different answer every time. She currently works part time in human resources and is pursuing a degree in English with a concentration in Literature. She hopes to one day work at a publishing house, helping future writers fulfill their dreams of becoming published authors. Between working and studying, she loves spending time with her friends, binging Netflix, and cuddling with her black lab puppy, Loki.