Before the Devil Knows You’re Here

Peachtree Teen. Oct. 2023. 240p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781682636473.
Gr 9 Up–Since the death of her mother, Catalina and her younger brother have frequently moved between cabins in the Wisconsin wilderness with their dreamy father. Teenaged Catalina once wrote poetry but has since abandoned her passion, instead working to keep her family fed. With the sudden appearance of three apples outside their door, Catalina’s father erupts into uncharacteristic violence, but this is only the beginning of the family’s new woes. A sudden illness claims her father and at his deathbed a monster appears; the monster abducts her brother, and Catalina is left determined to pursue them both. On her hunt, she meets a lumberjack named Paul, also searching for the monster. As the two journey deeper into the wilderness, they begin to learn just how entwined their pasts may be with the Man of Sap. In this book told in dual time lines, readers follow Catalina on her quest for the Man of Sap, while learning how the monster’s bargain with the devil caused him to become that way. Readers will slowly connect the work’s abundant symbolism to the stories of Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan. The work also draws on the Bible and the poetry of Mexican writer Sor Juana. Elements of horror twine to create the feeling of a haunting American folktale, with apples—themselves symbols of both vitality and decay—at the center. Multiple scenes of animal death are included. Catalina and her brother are biracial Mexican and white.
VERDICT A lyrical story of greed, generational curses, forgiveness, and self-acceptance, this folkloric tale is a must-read.

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