The Woods Are Always Watching

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
The Woods Are Always Watching Book Poster Image
Teens are hunted by serial killers in violent horror tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Stands out for positive messages.

Educational Value

This is a learn-what-not-to-do story about the risks of being unprepared and overestimating your ability to take on a new (and potentially dangerous) challenge. Vivid descriptions of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. 

Positive Messages

Shows the importance of putting aside your differences so you can work together and get through tough times.

Positive Role Models

While their determination to survive and loyalty to each other is exceptional, neither Josie or Neema took preparing for their hike as seriously as they should have and pay a terrible price for that decision.

Diverse Representations

While Neema's ethnicity (she's Indian American) plays no part in how the story unfolds, there are some brief passages that reveal more about her and her family. Neema's given up counting how often strangers think she's Native American (which means Cherokee in North Carolina) or Mexican. She realizes and appreciates the challenges her parents faced when they immigrated to the United States (her mother had to repeat her medical residency and her lawyer father had to pass the local bar exam). But she admits to being embarrassed by their "cliche" ambitions for her. They haven't hidden the fact that they wanted her to go to MIT like her brother (or any Ivy League school) rather USC. And while Neema's agreed to major in economics, she hopes to someday convince her parents to let her study film and TV production as well.

Violence

Violence in the story is graphic, and there's a lot of it. People are shot, brutally murdered, mangled in an accident, and torn apart by a wild animal. Characters find rotting corpses and corpses of the newly murdered. There are mentions of actual serial killers (Son of Sam, Zodiac, and the National Forest Serial Killer) and hikers who have been killed or gone missing in or near the forest where the girls are hiking. A character had been sent to prison for raping a child.

Sex
Language

There's a fair amount of profanity ("s--t," "goddamn," "a--hole") and multiple uses of "f--k."

Consumerism

Characters talk about Paddington Bear characters and the movie A Walk in the Woods, eat Cheetos and Doritos, and work at Kmart.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One mention of classmates who drink beer and smoke weed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stephanie Perkin'The Woods Are Always Watching is a gory, violence-packed horror novel. Before heading off to separate colleges, best friends Neema Chandrasekhar and Josie Gordon have decided to take a three-day hike in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest. The fact that neither is an experienced hiker or camper means things are certain to go terribly wrong. Josie is seriously injured in a fall, and the two girls find themselves hunted by a pair of serial killers. There's a fair amount of profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," "a--hole") and readers should be prepared for a storyline filled with graphic violence, as people are shot, murdered, mangled, and torn apart by a wild animal.

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What's the story?

As THE WOODS ARE ALWAYS WATCHING begins, best friends Neema Chandrasekhar and Josie Gordon are making plans to do "something significant" before they head off to college. Neema will be going to California, while Josie will stay close to home in North Carolina. The something significant they settle on is going hiking and camping in the nearby Pisgah National Forest. The fact that Neema has never been camping and Josie hasn't been since she was a kid doesn't deter them. They map out an itinerary, download trail map apps, get some basic lessons in pitching a tent and lighting a stove, and set out for three days in the woods. Not surprisingly, hiking in the Appalachian Mountains is a lot more difficult than they ever imagined. They're late arriving at the first night's campsite and begin to argue. Their phones die and it's pouring rain. Then Josie falls into a sink hole and breaks her foot. It's up to Neema to find her way back to where their car is parked and get help. But help will never arrive unless the girls can evade two serial killers who are stalking them through the woods. 

Is it any good?

This dark and terrifying story about friendship, determination, and serial killers is a predictable, sometimes implausible, and often gripping page-turner. The Woods Are Always Watching isn't for teens who have a low tolerance for violence and gore. Readers who are hikers or campers will appreciate the author's vivid descriptions of the Pisgah Forest but are likely to be dismayed by how casually Josie and Neema prepared for the hike. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the amount of violence in The Woods Are Always Watching. Do you think it's possible to have a good horror book or movie without graphic violence? How much violence is too much?

  • Have you ever had a best friend move away? Was it hard to keep the friendship going?

  • If you could do "something significant" with your friends, what would it be? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrillers and horror

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