The Wicked Deep

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Wicked Deep Book Poster Image
Riveting tale of love, loss, murder, ghosts from the sea.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

More tale-spinning than educational value here, but along the way the author masterfully evokes the atmosphere and history of a dark, wet Oregon coastal village, and what makes it the way it is.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of love, courage, sacrifice, atonement, and struggling to do the right thing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Protagonist/main narrator Penny is forced to be responsible and adult beyond her years by her father's disappearance and her mother's weak grip on reality. Her friend Rose is loyal and impulsively courageous about doing what she thinks is right. The mysterious Bo is hardworking and kind. In the past, Hazel Swan doesn't share her sisters' wild ways and seeks one true love.


The murder of the Swan sisters brings two centuries of revenge drownings, several of which happen over the course of the present-day narrative. A character whose brother was an earlier victim is determined to kill a local girl who's temporarily possessed by one of the sisters.


A lot of sex, but no explicit description -- both in the past as the two older Swan sisters disrupt the town by taking most of the men as lovers, and in later years as their ghosts use sex to lure new boys to their death each year. In the present, teen couples make love in briefly described but emotional scenes. The Swan sisters' mother has the three girls by different fathers, then ditches them to pursue other adventures and amours.


Several instances of "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and other crude language.


Absence of Starbucks mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Plentiful teen drinking, mostly at parties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wicked Deep is a thrilling tale of murder, revenge, curses, teens doing stupid stuff -- and, possibly, the redeeming power of love. The first novel by Shea Ernshaw conjures up a cold, dark, wet, and doomy Oregon coastal town living under a centuries-old curse brought on by the townsfolk's murder of three sisters feared and hated for being wild and different and taking most of the town males as lovers. As the local high-schoolers wait to see if they're the curse's next victims, crude language and drunken parties on the beach take place. As it builds to a crashingly satisfying emotional crescendo, the story involves a lot of sex, past and present, but descriptions are brief and swoony rather than graphic.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written bylunarchronicles January 5, 2019

4.5 stars PLEASE READ!!! Such a good book!!

Poor Swan sisters, especially Hazel. The book is hard to put down, it's such a gripping story. I made the mistake of reading this before bed. :)
Teen, 14 years old Written byComplex July 11, 2018

Genuinly frightening, but fantastic

I loved this book. It was so beautifully written. It was a short read, and I was never bored while reading. The one suggestion I have is don't read this at... Continue reading

What's the story?

The wild, beautiful Swan sisters landed in blustery Sparrow, Oregon, in 1822, full of hope for a new life. A year later the townspeople tied rocks around their ankles and drowned them in THE WICKED DEEP, claiming they were witches. Ever since, the town's been cursed. Each June the sisters possess the bodies of local girls and lure boys to their death. It's become a tourist attraction. When Swan Season rolls around again, 17-year-old Penny Talbot wants no part of the festivities, but as a new boy arrives in town with no idea what he's in for, she gets more involved than she wants to be, trying to keep him safe. 

Is it any good?

First-time author Shea Ernshaw spins a thrilling tale of murder, revenge, deep wrongs, and curse-battling love as Oregon teens cope with their town's dark legacy. Suspense and swear words abound as angry spirits from The Wicked Deep seek their prey, teens turn against one another, and young lovers grapple with dark secrets and their consequences. The characters are engaging and relatable as they move to a traumatic but satisfying resolution.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the Swan sisters get into trouble for being too "different" for the people around them in The Wicked Deep. What other stories can you think of with a similar theme? What about in real life?

  • Do you think you'd like to live in an isolated village like Sparrow, or would it feel like a prison?

  • Why do you think stories about curses are so popular? How do you think this one stacks up?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love ghost tales and romantic fantasy

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