We are Wormwood doesn’t deal in certainty or easy answers, and it doesn’t offer the reader a clean, straightforward resolution. What it does do is take the reader on a journey through a surreal world where the prevalence of madness, drug abuse, and supernatural events makes it impossible to have a tidy perception of what reality actually is. Tying it all together is Lily, a troubled young woman fighting for self-realization. It’s a dark story, but one that has a genuinely uplifting ending. More importantly, the writing is absolutely phenomenal. I mean it in the best way possible when I say this book knocked me on my ass.
There are only two problems with the book that bear mentioning. The first is its scope. Although it focuses on Lily, so much of questionable reality happens frequently enough that it’s difficult, as a reader to properly orient yourself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it really helps put the reader in the same position as the characters and thus makes it much easier to empathize.
The downside is that you can never quite tell what the ultimate goal is. Lily is always aiming at a moving target, and for a good portion of the book she’s driven more by the need to escape her past and deny what’s happening to and around her than she is to take action. Again, I don’t want to say this is a bad thing so much as it requires a reader to be comfortable with disorientation, and once Lily takes control and figures out what it is she’s fighting for, her previous uncertainty makes it that much more satisfying.
Second, this book isn’t for everyone. The writing is fantastic, but it doesn’t yield its secrets easily. If you want a narrative that’s neatly laid out and lets you gallop along on a straightforward adventure, this book just isn’t for you. If, however, you want to read something that’ll draw you in, play with your head, and leave your brooding every time you set it down, it’s up your alley. Throughout the book, what’s actually happening is always open to question. There’s no correct answer, just the one that you supply which seems best to you.
Now, on to the good stuff. The writing itself is fantastic. Ms. Christian has a great deal of talent, and each scene, independent of the rest of the book, is a pleasure to read. In a way, reading through the book is like walking through an art gallery that’s been well planned, each painting seamlessly setting the next one up. I enjoyed the story, and I loved the way I never quite had a firm grasp on what was happening, but had there been no plot the word candy alone would have been a pleasure to read.
Although I loved the writing, what really made the book was how well Ms. Christian presented her characters. They’re all strange, intriguing people that could, in the hands of the wrong author, have been too bizarre for the reader to relate to. Fortunately, Ms. Christian presents them as people. Bafflingly strange people at times, but for the most part people the reader can empathize with.
Also, there’s genuine warmth to the way she writes her characters. I wanted to see Lily succeed because I cared about her, not because I hated the villain or because I wanted to see how the story turned out. Honestly, it didn’t matter to me how it ended, as long as Lily was happy. It’s difficult to make a reader truly care about a character and what happens to them, but Ms. Christian repeatedly managed to make me do so.
The book also has an uplifting slant. It’s a frantic, grim novel that earnestly deals with drug abuse, madness, abandonment, suicide, and things dreamed up in nightmares. Despite that, once Lily finds what it is she wants and needs, she does everything she can to keep it. Despite all that’s happened to her, she still dares to hope. There are a lot of books that try to be dark and end up grinding reader down, but this book is genuinely grim while at the same time maintaining enough hope to keep you going. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but Ms. Christian manages it well.
The superb writing, the warmth the author writes her characters with, the way she plays around with the reader’s perception of reality, and the fact that what’s real and what isn’t may not even matter at the end of the day, all work together to make for a fascinating novel. Lily is a genuinely enjoyable character, and the world Ms. Christian weaves is bizarre and intriguing.
To properly enjoy the book, don’t read through it as if everything’s a metaphor, and don’t struggle to connect all of the pieces. Instead, treat it like a good surreal painting. There are themes, and there’s a message, but there are also a lot of things there that are unexplainable. If you try to focus on each one, you’ll miss the bigger picture. This is the sort of book that you read once, sleep on it, and let the pieces start falling into place in the back of your mind until you form your own interpretation of what happened. And be sure, you’ll need to form your own. The author presents a world of intriguing possibilities and leaves it for the reader to work out what’s what.
This book is going to take you down the rabbit hole deeper than you anticipate, and when it spits you out the other side you may not know what the devil just happened. But you will know you had a damned good time getting there. I give this a 5/5.
Treat yourself and pick up a copy from Amazon here!