An early copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for review
Sarah Maria Griffin was a brand new author for me. I had heard of her previous novel, Spare and Found Parts, but unfortunately I never actually got around to reading it. Turns out that my good friends Bec and Lauren are huge fans of Sarah and their excitement in the lead up to the publication of Other Words for Smoke definitely piqued my interest!
Having received early copies, Bec and Lauren devoured the story and absolutely fell in love. Hearing how much they enjoyed the book made me bump it higher up my TBR, so when Titan Books got in touch offering to send me an early copy too, I jumped at the chance. Keep reading for my spoiler free review.
“The house at the end of the lane burned down, and Rita Frost and her teenage ward, Bevan, were never seen again. The townspeople never learned what happened. Only Mae and her brother Rossa know the truth; they spent two summers with Rita and Bevan, two of the strangest summers of their lives…
Because nothing in that house was as it seemed: a cat who was more than a cat, and a dark power called Sweet James that lurked behind the wallpaper, enthralling Bevan with whispers of neon magic and escape. And in the summer heat, Mae became equally as enthralled with Bevan. Desperately in the grips of first love, she’d give the other girl anything. A dangerous offer when all that Sweet James desired was a taste of new flesh… “
From the moment I opened this book I could sense a strong undercurrent of unease woven beneath the words. Even the most mundane of scenes, like Mae and Rossa simply travelling in a car, had me feeling like something bad was about to happen at any moment. We do meet Bobby almost straight away. A cat as big as a dog, purring away and loving being stroked. How could I not love him?
The format of this book is unlike any I’ve read before, as far as I can remember anyway! Written in third person as Mae and Rossa’s story unfolds, and second person as we discover more about Bevan, the chapters transitioned from those of relative normalcy and ease to creepy and chilling in a matter of words. There are also footnotes included throughout the book, which while they could be a little distracting they were definitely interesting.
It is in these chapters with Bevan that we first meet Sweet James. The relationship between the two was definitely not healthy and it was quite distressing at certain points of the story. At times the descriptions were a little tough to follow, therefore making it quite difficult to paint a strong visual in my head, though having now read the full story I can’t be sure that this wasn’t intentional.
In terms of characters, my favourites definitely had to be Mae and Bobby. Mae was a likeable character who developed throughout the story, becoming more complex and layered throughout her time at the house. Bobby? Well Bobby is a cat so I was bound to love him either way but I also warmed to (most of) his character.
The portrayal of a sibling relationship was also interesting; Mae and Rossa began the story as twins who rely greatly on one another and as the story develops the two’s relationship becomes strained. I greatly enjoyed the ‘witchy’ aspect of the story too.
While I cannot comment on the accuracy of the representation, there are characters of different sexual orientations in Other Words for Smoke, with our main characters being bisexual, straight and gay. This diversity is always very much welcomed!!
For the majority of this book I had absolutely no idea where this story was going or what was going to happen, and when we were hit with those plot twists at the end? Wow, I really did not see that coming.
Other Words for Smoke was undeniably a very dark read, and I feel compelled to include trigger warnings for abuse and obsession. There are also discussions surrounding abortions and the Magdalene laundries.
It’s very hard to review this novel without giving anything away but I hope I managed to do a decent job! A unique coming of age tale filled with talking cats, demonic owls, witchcraft, obsession and betrayal. Other Words for Smoke was an atmospheric read that kept me guessing and anticipating until the very end. It’s 3/5 stars from me!
Book Depository affiliate links used. If you use my link I earn a small commission