Sawkill Girls

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Sawkill Girls Book Poster Image
Teens hunt shape-shifting beast in eerie fantasy thriller.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fantasy thriller meant to entertain. 

Positive Messages

Teens who have nothing in common (and may not even like each other) can still make a great team if they put their differences aside.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All three girls have faced tough personal challenges. Marion is reeling from the death of her father and disappearance of her sister. Zoey is hiding the hurt she feels as an outcast among rich kids on Sawkill. And Val has a mother who's willing to quite literally sacrifice her daughter to the Collector. But they are on their way to becoming brave, determined, powerful young women.

Violence

Beast known as the Collector eats his victims alive, something that's described in detail only once, with screaming and lots of spraying blood. A character is shot but not killed. Readers learn that the Collector demands sex from the women he controls.

Sex

Marion and Val begin a romance (one sexual encounter is briefly described), while Zoey wrestles with her asexuality.

Language

Characters use a fair amount of profanity: "f—k," "a--hole," "s--t," "bitch," "hell," "Jesus."

Consumerism

A few references to movies, TV shows, and books (Aliens, The Breakfast Club, 30 Rock, Vanity Fair).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink at parties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Claire Legrand's Sawkill Girls is set on an island filled with horse farms and old-money mansions and inhabited by a mysterious shape-shifting beast known as the Collector. To some islanders, he's merely an urban legend, but others believe he's responsible for the disappearance of more than 20 girls over the past century. For three teen girls -- Marion (new to the island, plain, and socially awkward), Zoey (biracial, lonely, and mourning a vanished friend), and Val (beautiful, rich, and entitled) -- he's all too real. And they form an unlikely alliance to try to destroy him. There's screaming and lots of blood in one mercifully short scene where the Collector eats his victim alive. And there's a fair amount of profanity ("f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," and "bitch"). Two of the girls become romantically involved, with one sexual encounter briefly described, while the third begins to identify as asexual. More than an eerie and frightening fantasy thriller, the novel has at its core a strong message of female empowerment.

 

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What's the story?

As SAWKILL GIRLS begins,16-year-old Marion Althouse, her older sister, Charlotte, and their mother are on a ferry heading toward a new life on Sawkill Island. Devastated by the recent death of the girls' father, their mother has taken a job as housekeeper to the Mortimer family, who own a vast estate on the island. But hopes for that new life are shattered the night Charlotte vanishes without a trace. Is she the latest victim of the Collector, a shape-shifting beast who many islanders blame for the disappearance of 23 girls over the last 150 years? Zoey Harlow, the teen daughter of the local police chief, is convinced Charlotte's been taken by the Collector and she's certain who's in league with him: someone in the Mortimer family. The Mortimer she focuses on is Val, the beautiful and entitled daughter who takes delight in any opportunity to humiliate Zoey. Marion and Zoey quickly forge a friendship, but that friendship (and their decision to hunt for the Collector) is put in jeopardy when Marion and Val begin a relationship. As the hunt goes forward, there are questions aplenty. Why has Zoey's father hidden a book written in Latin and filled with drawings of monsters? Where does the secret passageway in the Mortimer mansion lead? What is the Far Place? Most important, has Val really become their ally in the quest to destroy the Collector, or is she the latest in a long line of Mortimer women who have done his murderous bidding?

Is it any good?

This spine-tingling and suspenseful page-turner is filled with dark family secrets, betrayals, supernatural twists and turns, and empowered teen heroines. After a bit of a slow beginning, Sawkill Girls picks up speed and the plot unfolds at a dizzying pace that will send some readers flipping back through the novel to make certain they don't miss a detail or a clue. It's a terrific, scary read with a feminist message that teens will find hard to put down.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence and horror in Sawkill Girls. Which is more frightening: reading about monsters like the Collector in a novel or watching one in a movie? 

  • Zoey begins to identify as asexual. Would students at your school be accepting of someone who made that choice?

  • Could you forgive someone who had done or condoned such terrible things?

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