Like the ominous and isolated Louisiana bayou setting of her debut novel, Ginny Myers Sain’s Dark and Shallow Lies is a story that’s as alluring as it is unnerving and unfathomable. And like all the best twisty, turny thrillers, it takes less than a chapter to hook readers in and the entire book to give up its dark mysteries. But this isn’t a novel of tiny, inconsequential secrets; these are secrets so terrible and so unforgivable that they threaten to tear the characters and their already unstable hometown apart.
When seventeen-year-old Grey makes her annual summer trip back to La Cachette, the tiny bayou town of her childhood, she knows it won’t be the same as her visits from past years. Her best friend, Elora, has been missing for months and nobody seems to be telling the truth. Not just about the night of Elora’s disappearance, but way back into the past to when Grey was a child and everything – and everyone – around her started to unravel. Even before Elora’s sudden vanishing, La Cachette was never an ordinary town. Proclaimed as the ‘Psychic Capital of the World’, Grey and her childhood friends have always been special. They each have varying psychic abilities and whilst her friends have lived with theirs for years, Grey is still trying to learn what hers might be.
Determined to find out what happened to Elora, Grey starts digging into the mystery surrounding that fateful night. She can’t understand why everyone’s acting so strangely, or why everyone seems to be hiding something. Because if there’s one thing the deep, dark waters surrounding La Cachette are good at concealing, it’s secrets – and potentially murder too. As a devastating storm builds, threatening the very fabric of the small bayou community, Grey races to find out the truth; a truth that has the power to change everything she’s ever known and felt about her home and the people that inhabit it.
He’s tearing through the brush behind me. Breathing hard and calling my name. Even with the wind and the driving rain, he’s all I hear. So I push myself faster. We break out on to the wide-open flats, and I feel him closing in on me. There’s nowhere left to hide except inside the dark. So I turn off my flashlight and let the blackness eat me alive.”
Blending small-town supernatural thrills with a haunting coming-of-age murder mystery, this YA novel is so well crafted that it’s easy to lose whole hours of your life whilst reading it. I certainly did. It’s the kind of story that reaches into your heart and makes you live every second with the characters. You experience every sadness, every yearning and every dashed hope. I felt so deeply for these young, desperate, tortured teenagers. Not just Grey, whose heart breaks a little more with every new discovery that shatters her vision of her childhood home, but for her friends too. For Hart, the boy that Grey pines over but who’s too broken to love her back in the same way. For Elora, who pushed Grey away to try and save her. For each one of the ‘Summer Children’, Grey’s beloved friends, who suffer and sacrifice and struggle in the bayou.
Myers Sain paints a vivid, palpable picture of the sweltering, swampy setting that the characters call their home. That Deep South atmosphere seeps off the page with such strength that you can soak up the Cajun culture without moving from your sofa; you can also smell the muddy, watery landscape, and you can hear the wind chimes as they sway in the warm wind. It all conspires to make sure readers are fully invested in Grey’s world and her desperate plight to find out what happened to her friend, her ‘twin flame’, before the storm blows in. Before she has to leave again. Before someone else covers up the mystery forever or another person she loves disappears.
There’s an eerie prescience to Myers Sain’s novel. Storms come hand-in-hand with the American South but reading this book whilst Hurricane Ida rampages across Louisiana makes this supernatural mystery feel not only more tense, but more grounded and real too. It feels like a race against both time and Mother Nature, and you’re never quite sure if Grey will come out of it unscathed or become another La Cachette victim. It could swing either way right up until the shocking, intense and emotionally charged end.
Dark and Shallow Lies is an all-consuming and lyrically written book that envelops you in its small-town Louisiana atmosphere. Taking place, as Ginny Myers Sain describes it, in the “in-between spaces where magic feels most possible”, it’s a story that crackles off the page and into readers’ hearts, where it will stay for a long time to come.
Dark and Shallow Lies is published by Electric Monkey on 2 September 2021