Published by Soho Teen on October 15, 2015
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
Told as an ongoing letter to a friend, Winnie’s story is a heartrending mystery and a pop culture critique in the vein of Libba Bray’s Going Bovine and Beauty Queens—with illustrations throughout that recall the quirky, dark, and distinct aesthetics of Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Winnie Flynn doesn’t believe in ghosts. (Though she wouldn’t mind a visit from her mom, explaining why she took her own life.) When her mysterious aunt Maggie, a high-profile TV producer, recruits Winnie to spend a summer working as a production assistant on her current reality hit, Fantastic, Fearsome, she suddenly finds herself in the one place her mother would never go: New Jersey.
New Jersey’s famous Devil makes perfect fodder for Maggie’s show. But as the filming progresses, Winnie sees and hears things that make her think that the Devil might not be totally fake after all. Things that involve her and her family. Things about her mother’s death that might explain why she’s never met Aunt Maggie until now.
Winnie soon discovers her family’s history is deeply entwined with the Devil’s. If she’s going to make it out of the Pine Barrens alive, she might have to start believing in what her aunt is telling her. And, find out what she isn’t.
Diversity: 0 – What Diversity?
The Devil and Winnie Flynn is one of those books I didn’t know about until a good while after it came out. I like to think I stay on top of current and upcoming releases, so this doesn’t happen often! In addition to finding an ARC in my local used bookstore, I discovered my library had gotten a copy of it. SWEET! Using my loophole that I can check out a book from the library and it can skip my TBR jar whether I already own the book or not, I dove right into this spooky little tale. Except it wasn’t that spooky, just bad.
As a little girl, I watched Scariest Places on Earth and loved it even though it scared me so badly sometimes that I had to sleep with a nightlight on when I usually didn’t. The reality show conceit of The Devil and Winnie Flynn is one of the few positives of the book. Whether the techniques the film crew uses to stage scenes are really used in shows like Ghost Adventures or not, it’s genuinely interesting to see the filmmakers fake even the time of day by boarding up the windows during the day to make it seem as though some scenes are being filmed at night.
The illustrations are also a high point of the book. They’re a bit surreal but not enough so to freak readers out too badly or look just plain ugly. After a while, I came to appreciate the space they took up on each page too because that meant fewer words to read in other to get the book over with.
Then I stopped having fun. I don’t know whether technology defeated everyone who worked on this book or they really need some help, but there were so many typos and errors like misspelling “cannon fodder” as “canon fodder” that I noticed it for once in my life! Trust me, it ain’t something I notice unless it happens repeatedly and egregiously. I actually checked the ARC against the hardcover and the ARC has fewer errors. For instance, a misspelling of La Llorona in the hardcover wasn’t present in the ARC.
(The above paragraph has no bearing on my rating of or feelings about the book, I just wanted to share it because dear lord)
From the weak characters and lackluster mystery to the plodding pacing and horrid writing, the content itself is awful. As I read the book in early March, my Twitter feed essentially turned into a stream of especially bad quotes from The Devil and Winnie Flynn. Winnie is written as Not Like Other Girls and she nearly invokes that idea name when she says she isn’t “one of Those Girls,” a flashy primper like fellow Fantastic, Fearsome intern Amanda or attention-grabbing ghost hunter Casey.
It also makes use of the g-word, a racial slur against Romani people, and uses the r-word uncritically to talk about Mrs. Kallikak, a fictional(?) descendant of the Jersey Devil. Rather than using “mentally ill” or “messed up” or even the still-ableist-but-less-so “crazy” or “insane,” the r-word we can almost universally agree shouldn’t be used anymore is the word choice instead. Even coming from two characters who are barely on the page, it isn’t remarked on or even judged by Winnie.
The epistolary form in which the story is told is clumsy as well. It’s presented as one long letter Winnie writes to her friend back home, but it’s easy to forget that until an unnecessary aside emerges and distracts from the story at hand. For instance, Winnie calls her love interest Seth her knight in shining armor over something and proceeds tell her friend Lu she doesn’t care if it’s “unfeminist” because it’s just a fact. Just… It’s just so, so clumsy. That choice to go epistolary also makes the climactic scenes extremely anticlimactic as someone summons the Jersey Devil only for the Devil to be quickly sealed away again.
I am so disappointed. All I want is a good, spooky read and it’s surprisingly hard to find! Maybe it’s time I do a reread of Daughter Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics or seek out my favorite online horror stories. If you’re attracted to the premise of The Devil and Winnie Flynn, I suggest you seek out the many stories of horror and paranormal happenings you can find online. Those events, whether fully true or largely fictionalized, will be better than this book.