Reviewed by Ariell Cacciola
The Telling by Alexandra Sirowy starts off like any grim and grisly fairy tale would — a bloody murder, child protagonists, and adults who always seem to be on the periphery.
Lana's beloved stepbrother Ben is murdered right before her eyes, or so we think. The whole brutal and sanguine murder is murky and enigmatic, but until Lana finds out the truth, she is doing her best to socialize with the teenagers from Gant High School who once shunned her, and be the brave, daring girl that Ben always wanted her to be.
“My stepbrother Ben's voice is in my head. Don't wait until you're dead, Lan. Exercise your nerve and mischief. I'm obsessed with living.”
So when Lana mightily jumps into Swisher Spring, she thinks she is being strong for her dead stepbrother and her new self. But, alas, this is where it really all begins. The spring holds the drowned body of a girl — Ben's manipulative and trashy ex-girlfriend, Maggie. When Lana and her friends fish her out, it is more than obvious that Maggie has been done in by murder.
Ben's ex-girlfriend is not the only new body to pile up in Gant. A couple of other high schoolers who had tormented Lana during the school year wind up goners, as well. However, the strange thing is, all of their deaths resemble the creepy, yet vague, original fairy tales Ben would tell Lana throughout their years growing up.
The opening chapters of The Telling are beyond gripping. Sirowy is a storyteller and she wants her readers to be wrapped up in the strangeness of everything. But then the police reveal to Lana and her friends the cause of Maggie's death, which goes beyond mere drowning: the girl was poisoned with toxic rosary pea. Admittedly, this a spine-tingling and bizarre way to do someone in. It is quite striking and perplexing, still it takes Lana way more than a split second to realize, wait a second, this is from one of Ben's weirdly specific stories he once told me.
Thus, began a change to our first-person narrator. Lana only hit one note. The narrative seemed drained of any personality. All of her friends ran together; Sirowy might as well have named them Girl A, Girl B, Boy A, etc. Characterization suffered and Lana's pining to find Ben's killer, along with what happened to Maggie and the subsequent murders rang stale.
The promise of dark, twisty fairy tales permeating through a small community was barely a part of the novel. A murder happened and Lana would mention something about one of Ben's stories that never really resonated.
I can't quite point to what happened with this novel. What started out so enthralling got tugged down and drowned like the girl in Swisher Spring. No one really felt like a character and with each new murder, any semblance of interest washed away.
This is a strange book to review: on one hand, I found myself completely hooked, turning page after page, but then about halfway through, I was let down. The narrative unspooled and what was left of the mystery was not enough to carry the rest of the story. Like a fairy tale heroine, The Telling lost its original path and ended up some place faraway from home.