Don’t Tell A Soul by Kirsten Miller is a young adult horror novel. Following Bram in Don’t Tell A Soul takes a historical ghost story and questions why it’s always women who die.
In Don’t Tell A Soul, Bram goes to her Uncle James’ manor. From the beginning, we understand that this is the last resort for Bram. We also know that a fire had been set in the estate, burning part of it down completely. The manor has a history of unfortunate events occurring in it, almost always at women’s hands. Uncle James’ wife was killed in the fire, and his stepdaughter, Lark, had been placed in a psychiatric ward. James insinuates to Bram that Lark is at fault for the fire entirely and that her father also has a mental illness history.
“Mad. The word hadn’t left my head since James had used it. I liked it. It was a shame, I thought, that the term had gone out of fashion. I couldn’t think of another that fit me so perfectly.”
However, Bram has more questions than answers at the beginning of this book. Are these all due to a curse? Is this all because of girls going crazy? As Bram begins to investigate this, the townspeople are not the kindest to her. Some want her and her uncle to leave, or else they’ll lose the rest of their small-town charm. Others want her to go and never look back, or else she’ll be in danger. There’s pressure from the police and the housekeeper for her to stay away from a boy named Nolan. Things continue to get heated as Bram keeps asking questions.
“All the best ghosts were girls.”
This story was interesting. From the start, we don’t know if Bram is an entirely trustworthy narrator. She has a history of mental illness, as well as drug abuse. We also know that she is running from her past and cannot ever return. Because of these factors, we question her motives for solving what happened the night of the fire. Her uncle is her favorite family member, and she has high expectations for him. However, when it comes to all other men, Bram does not trust any of them. This is cause for further concern about her relationships with others. Her mother hints that perhaps Bram had a violent past.
“Ghosts and girls go hand in hand. Why do you suppose that is?”
The reason this was not an entirely five star read for me was that at the exact moment I would have classed this as genuinely scary- the story took a turn. And this turn made me angrier than anything else. Women are treated in a specific way to make a point, but sometimes with horror, this is not done well. This is one of those instances. We want to change the “crazy girl” horror trope, and this story attempted to do that. I would not necessarily say that it succeeded, however. (SPOILER: Using drug addiction as a horror trope seems just as short-sighted and mildly problematic as using mentally ill women as a horror trope. They’re both mental illnesses.)
“And they’re all going to be talking about how another girl lost her mind at the manor.”
Horror is always a tricky genre to review as it can easily step into the problematic. This is one of those cases. I did not appreciate the way drug addiction was used in this case. However, the atmosphere was creepy enough to keep me on my toes and make me believe in ghosts. I also really enjoyed most of the characters in this book and how they learned from the things that happened. That’s what makes this a 3.5 star read.
Thank you to Netgalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.