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The Killing Woods



Gripping psychological thriller for older teens.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its symptoms.

Positive messages

Keep searching for the truth, trust your instincts, and don't give up, even when the whole world seems to be against you.

Positive role models

Thoughtful, independent, and fearless, Emily insists on getting to the truth. Fellow high school student Damon excels at his studies and is loyal to his friends; he's capable of controlling his occasional violent impulses, but he drinks to excess and uses drugs recreationally. The only two adults with real presence are Emily's parents: Dad, who's the prime suspect in a murder, appears mostly as a loving father suffering from PTSD; and her mom, who uses alcohol to cope with emotional problems and is the first to believe her husband is guilty, although she and Emily ultimately reconcile.


Punching, shoving, and wrestling are part of frequent but rarely bloody fight scenes, which occur mostly in the context of a hide-and-seek-style game being played willingly by all participants. One game participant likes to be choked to get high; there's brief discussion of this behavior, called by such names as Seven Seconds and Gasp. Video footage of a crime leads to solving the mystery. Some descriptions are vague; others, including the last moments of the victim's life, are more clear and detailed but not gory. Minor characters' experiences reflect the violence of war: One suffers from PTSD after shooting a civilian; another's father was killed by an exploding IED, and at one point a friend speculates graphically about that moment. There's some mild gore when a rabbit is being skinned and rare, nongraphic mentions of blood elsewhere in the story.


Sexual incidents are infrequent but emotionally powerful. The victim's boyfriend frequently remembers sexual aspects of their relationship; he mentions being hard and being inside her, describes oral sex briefly, and vaguely describes bringing her to orgasm manually. An emerging portrait of the victim reveals someone who uses the promise of sex to get what she wants: "She'd sat on my lap and wiggled her bum in just the right way. She'd known it would make me want her."


"F--k" and variations are used frequently. Other strong language occuring half a dozen times or less includes "piss," "s--t," "bastard," "dick," and "p---y" in the context of name-calling. Strong British language includes rare uses of "bollocks," "wanker," and "poof" and calling someone a "knob end" ("knob" being slang for "penis"). Twice characters "flip the bird."


One mention each of Juicy Fruit and (Ford) Fiesta. The author's note thanks the band Quiet Marauder for "providing the soundtrack" to the book and includes the band's Web address.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Damon, one of the two teen narrators, drinks and uses drugs; focused on one night in particular when excessive drink and drugs caused blackout and memory loss, the story revisits his physical and mental state frequently. Emily's mother drinks to excess. Characters frequently smell of booze; some recall a past incident of getting drunk in a pub when underage. "Fairy dust," a nonspecified drug in powder form, plays a prominent role on the night of the crime. Damon smokes an entire joint one night and hallucinates. Friend Mack offers marijuana, booze, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and more of the unknown powder to Damon to help him sleep. Teens are occasionally depicted smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Killing Woods is a teen murder mystery that frequently revisits events leading up to the killing, including characters drinking and using drugs to the point of blackouts and memory loss. Violence (aside from the backdrop of murder) is infrequent, not gory, and usually involves wrestling-style fighting, although there's some mention of war-related violence. Infrequent sexual content is very powerful emotionally. Strangulation -- as a thrill and an emotional escape mechanism -- comes up for discussion. Strong language includes frequent use of "f--k," and occasional instances of other words. Teens frequently refer to "fairy dust," an unspecified drug in powder form, which they apply to their gums.

Kids say

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What's the story?

He may have confessed, but Emily can't bring herself to believe her father is guilty of murder. Determined to learn the truth, she discovers that the victim, Ashlee, was in the woods on the last night of her life, playing a dangerous kind of hide and seek. Ashlee's boyfriend Damon was playing, too, but consumed so much alcohol and drugs that he can't remember what happened -- especially whether he himself committed the crime. Emily and Damon each try to reconstruct the tragic night's events -- but how can they, if they can't trust their friends, family, or each other?

Is it any good?


With THE KILLING WOODS, author Lucy Christopher has constructed a taut, gripping teen whodunit. Told by the two narrators, the story cleverly reveals the solution piece by piece. All the classic mystery elements -- including red herrings -- are there to keep the reader guessing to the very end. Poetic language gives the psychological thriller an eerie, shadowy atmosphere.

Emily's voice is believable, but Damon's is inconsistent, which can distract the reader from the story. The surprising ending satisfies, despite the "summing up" at the police station, when the stilted, textbook-style language comes across as a contrived, gratuitous attempt to reinforce the "kids, don't do drugs" message. However, this a minor flaw in an otherwise suspenseful and compelling read.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why murder mysteries are so popular. Why are we so fascinated by them?

  • Do you find the teen drinking and drug use described here realistic? Do the consequences the characters have to deal with change your views about drinking and drug use?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from PTSD? What are we as a society doing to help soldiers when they return from combat? Is it enough?

Book details

Author:Lucy Christopher
Topics:Friendship, Great girl role models, High school
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Chicken House
Publication date:January 7, 2014
Number of pages:384
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of The Killing Woods was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byfrancisc November 20, 2014

Boring, introspective

This book tells the story from two people's point of view. It is distracting and confusing, and there is so many minute descriptions of how they feel that you lost patience. Unable to endure all the long-drawn out introspection of two seemingly dysfunctional teens.
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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