I picked up this book because it promised gothic horror and the “then the devil found me” line hooked me. What I didn’t expect was that it was actually a full-on paranormal romance. In fact, it’s worse than Twilight. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April G. Tucholke centres on Violet “Vi” who lives with her brother Luke in an isolated area, devoid of their parents who are in Europe, in a town called Echo which seems to be far removed from the modern world.
Things start to change eerily when River (oh and he’s hot) shows up to be a tenant of Vi and Luke’s guesthouse since their parents are out of town and they’re broke (then how are they able to afford food and coffee?). A series of mysterious disappearances and gruesome things starts to happen…
Spoilers and some ranting ahead.
This book started well. I understand the obsession Vi has with her grandmother because of her death but it’s weird that she wears her grandmother’s clothes. I prefer to wear vintage clothes that don’t belong to a dead relative.
Things started to go downhill when Vi slut-shamed her only friend Sunshine. She slut-shames her A LOT and makes critical comments about her appearance.
Internalised misogyny and setting
It’s clear that Sunshine is only there to be a contrast to Vi. Sunshine is called a slut and whore throughout the book and she doesn’t have much of a role other than being there to make Vi look all innocent and pure – oh, Vi is a virgin and never had a boyfriend. What a surprise.
There’s no depth to Sunshine. The editor should’ve told the author to scrap the character and others (there are plenty in the book) all together. Seriously, there are still YA books with this female rivalry (but they’re friends) bullshit?
The vintage yellow dress hiked up to her [Sunshine] white inner thigh…
Wow, call the police while you’re at it, Vi.
Echo seems to be stuck in the past despite being set in the present. The residents appear to be conservative and misogynistic. Nothing from the modern world touches them.
I like the gothic feel to the setting though. The decaying of a great dynasty/house, the isolation, the goosebumps and hair rising chill. It’s one of the two things I like about this book. The other: the writing which is deep, poetic and beautiful, but the first person narrative doesn’t suit. It would’ve been better if the book was in third person. It would’ve made the plot more coherent and I wouldn’t be irritated by Vi who’s really not important and has no agency. Why should I care about her?
Vi. Eccentric and loves books BUT to the point that she thinks highly of herself, is indifferent and romanticises the past way too much – she has an outdated speech pattern. She needs to get out more. She has no friends other than Sunshine. She’s not a good friend – when Sunshine was getting butchered by her possessed parents, Vi ran. RAN. Instead of fighting back. So loyalty isn’t part of her pure character.
She has never been interested in boys until hot River appears and suddenly she gets all horny over him. She becomes overattentive and clingy, waits for him to come home, stares into the distance, thinking of him, even though she doesn’t know him. She doesn’t ask for his ID or anything. After five seconds meeting him, she’s like “yeah, you got the guesthouse, please move in and maybe we can hook up”.
I get instalove and teens falling with so much passion but this is so stupid. Vi is stupid. Stupider than Bella Swan. I get that River manipulates people’s feelings and he corrupts Vi to the point she becomes dependable on him, but NO. And some readers thought they were a hot couple? Seriously? In Chandler Bing’s words, wake up and smell the restraining order.
River is a mysterious guy [rolls eyes] who has a gift called the “glow” (a very weak name for a power). He can make people see things and manipulate their thoughts and feelings. He manipulates Vi everytime. More on this later. He kills people and justifies that they did something wrong and deserved to die. He doesn’t regret it, he even ENJOYS the killing. Oh, what a hot guy. I would totally get in bed with him. Vi does.
Sunshine….I’ve established that she’s nothing but a sexualised character with no development or anything. What a waste.
Luke. He’s misogynistic and doesn’t get called out for it. He’s mean towards Vi and no reason is given. I thought he was the devil because of it and also because of his name. But no, just another pointless character with pointless behaviour. Probably just there to make Vi look special and good. He changes a bit but doesn’t add much to the story.
Neely, River’s brother who cleans up after him. He loves River and gets frustrated with the killings. How about sending him to jail or something to put yourself out of your misery? Neely is the only character that I liked. He’s funny, caring and he’s the only one who comes out as normal and gets on with the times.
Brodie…who appears in the last 20 pages of the book. And he’s supposedly the main antagonist. No. His presence doesn’t even make sense either. It felt forced in.
Plot? I had to go back and reread the blurb and the first few chapters to understand what was going on. A series of strange things happen and River is involved. It builds up…to an anticlimatic and cop-out plot twist. After creepy kids staying out with stakes in their hands, hunting for the devil, innocents getting killed due to a witch hunt, people getting possessed, and a man slitting his throat and River watching it in glee.
River and Neely have a half-brother named Brodie who can do what River can do. Another brother. And he’s actually the one behind what’s happening in Echo (River is still involved in it) and tries to kill everyone. What a way to legitimatise River’s actions and therefore his abusive relationship with Vi. Even though he has committed crimes, he’s a saint compared to Brodie. WHAT THE ****?
I thought River was behind everything and Vi had to face the facts and destroy him. But nope. That would’ve been better, it would’ve heightened the stakes. The suspense would’ve paid off and make sense. The addition of Brodie butchered the rest of the book, resulting in poor plotting. Not to mention the story behind Vi’s grandmother and River’s grandfather was building up to be a subplot…only to lead to nothing. What’s the point of it? I have no idea.
Romanticising abusive relationships
Like I said before, this book is worse than Twilight. The relationship between Vi and River is worse than Bella and Edward. Within seconds of meeting River, Vi gets all hot and heavy over him and this is what happens:
“Do you think you could lie down here and take a nap with me?” – River
I didn’t answer. I didn’t even think. I just slid myself on to the couch, pressed my back into River’s torso and let his arms wrap around me. – Violet
OH. MY. GOD. YOU. JUST. MET. ABOUT AN HOUR AGO. I guess I can’t blame Vi because she has been in isolation for a long time and has no close contact with people other than Luke and Sunshine. But I still think she’s stupid. In fact, everyone is so freaking stupid. They’re like “Oh, there’s something off with this River guy, but he’s awesome”.
Okay, they seem to be under River’s influence, but this is ridiculous. Vi knows that there’s something wrong with River but…she doesn’t care, too lazy to do anything. River lies to her, to her face, and admits that he lies carelessly as if he won’t get punished. He doesn’t. There are moments where Vi begins to see the light and hates him. But like a moth to a flame, like a stupid person, she doesn’t want to let go of him.
Because…no reason is given. We don’t know why she’s drawn and vice versa other than River’s hot and whenever he’s near her, he’s better – which is bullshit since he gets out of control to the point that his powers strip Vi’s clothes off in his sleep. I don’t like to think what would’ve happen if they didn’t wake up. But apparently this doesn’t freak Vi out. Because she’s unbelievably stupid.
River manipulates her all the time. It hurts her but she doesn’t care. Because he’s River [gag]. Whenever she confronts him, he waves her off and pulls her into his arms or touches FORCEFULLY so he can control her. He needs physical contact in order to make his power effective. There’s a scene where she tries to pull her hand away but he grabs it back and presses it against his chest.
I tried to muster my previous anger. But there was nothing there. River’s hand was hot on mine and it felt good and I had nothing left…
“You can’t deny it, Vi.” River was starting to make sense. What he said sounded logical.
Yes, he’s an example of an abuser. He makes Vi feel guilty by pouring his heart out. Yes he has a tragic childhood and now he can’t control himself. CAN’T CONTROL HIMSELF. You know, abusers and rapists commonly use that excuse.
Seriously, didn’t Vi’s grandmother or parents give her and Luke guidance in dealing with people like River or even strangers? Clearly not. And I’m bothered that CONSENT isn’t really addressed. Instead we get the “he can’t help himself. It’s not his fault” bullshit designed to put all the blame on girls/women. And everyone’s okay with it.
I’m glad that Neely is there to make Vi see the truth and snap out of her trance, and tell her to not let River touch her. And that leads up to a scene where she really stands up to River…but this is brief. She falls under his control again – he begs her to sleep next to him because of nightmares and other shitty excuses. It seems like he needs a parent, not a girlfriend. Vi definitely shouldn’t be nursing his non-existent wounds. On that note, we see Vi bringing Jake, a kid who becomes an orphan, to her home and takes care of him. She’s a teen. But she lives in Echo where gender roles are still in place. Ugh.
Back to Neely, Vi and River, I was let down when Neely started to sort of encourage the relationship at the end. After they found out that there was someone else worse than River…
Vi has no agency. At all. The only time she does something is at the end. She stabs Brodie – he doesn’t even die. That’s it. She relies on men to save her on 99% of the time.
This book had potential but it resulted in a disappointing mess. The only things that are worthy of attention are the writing and the gothic-ness of the town. I want more female friendships, genuines ones, and relationships that aren’t perfect but healthy. Stop romanticising abusive relationships.