Originally posted on The Nerd Daily.
Inspired in part by true events, Death by the River by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor [Vesuvian Books, October 2018] is the kind of skin-crawling, queasy-feeling-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach story that needs to be told and demands to be read.
Twin sisters Leslie and Dawn might share the same dirty blonde hair and blue eyes, but that’s where their similarities end. Leslie is sharp-tongued and quick-witted, dating a sweet boy named Derek from the other side of the tracks that her mother doesn’t approve of. Meanwhile, Dawn is living every small town, Southern girl’s dream: she’s head of the cheer squad and the girlfriend of the high school’s star quarterback—who also happens to be rich, handsome, and with a pedigree that has the whole town eating out of its palm. Unfortunately, all of Dawn’s dreams are about to come crashing down, because Beau Deveraux is not the catch of the generation. He’s a misogynistic, sadistic psychopath with some serious anger issues and a deep hatred of women—but that’s just the sort of thing his father has spent a lot of good money on keeping quiet.
Beau might be Dawn’s boyfriend, but it’s Leslie that is the object of his infatuation. When his plan to woo Leslie by keeping her sister close doesn’t go according to plan, Beau’s frustration finds temporarily—and increasingly violent—reprieve in punishing other women as stand-ins for the one girl “crazy enough” to not be interested (eye roll). Beau’s progression from manipulator, to rapist, to murderer is a journey through psychosis that begins with terrorising his own mother and ends with more than one dead body floating in the Bogue Falaya River near the ruins of the abandoned St. Francis Seminary where high school students like to party on the weekends and where wild dogs—and a spectral lady in white—are said to only appear when death is near.
This story is, admittedly, not for the faint of heart. It’s violent and comes with a trigger warning on sexual assault with scenes in the book that range from subtle verbal abuse to full-on rape. Nevertheless, Weis and Astor capture Deveraux’s deplorable misogyny and psychotic tendencies with a delicate grace that makes the story captivating while still coating you in that icky feeling that doesn’t wash off in the shower. The guy doesn’t have a single redeemable bone in his body, but that doesn’t make him an unrealistic antagonist. In fact, it might be just what makes him feel so damn familiar. Every woman has known a man like Beau Devereaux, and if you haven’t…well, it’s probably because you didn’t know you did. This reviewer certainly has, and everything from Beau’s subtle exploitations to his overt sexism ring painfully true.
Readers may not appreciate Beau’s increasingly erratic descent into madness or the fickleness of teenage fidelity—and there’s nothing about this story that makes it a heartwarming read—but that doesn’t stop Death by the River from being a book that every teenage girl should read. As Weis states in her endnote: Beau’s victims keep quiet for the same reason many young women do today—fear of reprisals, humiliation, peer pressure, and lack of trust in a system that largely ignores or blames them. While this truth doesn’t make Death By the River a pleasant read, it does make it an important one--the type of cautionary tale that keeps you alive by reminding you that sometimes the biggest horrors aren’t the monsters hiding under the bed or the ones that exist somewhere else in the world, but the ones hiding in plain sight. And the best way to beat them? Bring them out in the light and expose them.
Note: Death by the River contains extreme sexual violence and may be triggering. Read with caution.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.