In addition to being homeschooled in a small town in Oklahoma, Quinn lives in about as remote an area as one could get: smack in the middle of a swamp and miles from the nearest road. It’s part of the reason why she was so desperate for friends that she made an internet connection with a girl in New York, one who needed Quinn’s help to get back at a man named Leo Ashwood. Eager to be a good friend, Quinn traveled to New York to help. She wasn’t even upset that her new friend lied about being a witch. However, Quinn was very upset to learn her friend didn’t want to merely steal back what Ashwood stole from her, she wanted to kill Ashwood. In a flash, things went from bad to worse and Quinn was stuck in New York, covered in blood, and surrounded by dead bodies…all except for the corpse of Leo Ashwood.
Back home in Oklahoma, that fateful night in New York comes back to haunt Quinn. Leo Ashwood proves to be more than just reanimated flesh, he starts growing his nefarious powers by murdering people. He is a constant threat to Quinn—and Quinn is desperate to keep this, her biggest mistake, a secret from her Aunt and the rest of her soon-to-be-coven. Things get complicated when Quinn realizes the arrival of Ashwood has kicked the powers of two other teenaged witches in the area into overdrive. First was Cecelia, an adopted girl who knows her dreams are visions of the future, but suddenly starts to experience increasingly horrifying events with disturbing clarity—not to mention being literally drawn to Quinn’s power, as well as having feelings for Quinn. Next was Maggie, a girl who’s magically compelling voice launched her YouTube career and saved her family from poverty. All three girls are being targeted by Ashwood, but no matter how powerful their abilities grow, he seems to evade their every attempt at slaying him.
Just when Quinn, Cecelia, and Maggie realize that there is no easy solution to an increasingly powerful undead witch, they also realize Quinn is a rare kind of witch and one whose powers are expanding by the day. To add more fuel to the fire, a piece of Cecelia’s past gets unlocked that threatens to dwarf the Ashwood problem.
Buried is the first book in Lizzie Strong’s The Secrets Witches Keep series. It’s largely set in rural Oklahoma and features a pretty big cast of characters. At the center of everything is our sixteen-year-old protagonist, Quinn. She was raised by an aunt who never told Quinn exactly what happened to Quinn’s own mother. They live a cozy life in a swamp, secure in their place in a local coven and largely untouched by humans and their rules. Quinn shares the spotlight with Cecelia and Maggie equally, though the latter two have been raised to believe they are nothing but human. Even when they begin to manifest powers, they’re not entirely convinced what they experience is anything too far out of the ordinary. The whole book is framed through these three girls’ perspectives, as each chapter is told from one of their POVs.
Overall, I thought the writing was…dynamic. Strong seems to have a preference for vibrant action verbs, so the prose is full of “Character A launched herself across the room” or “Character B dove into the room.” The characters’ narrations also shared that sense of immediacy that I think reflects the emotions of teenagers well. Scenes that take place at Cecelia and Maggie’s school show a preoccupation with social status among peers and cliques, even in small rural schools. Strong’s use of exclamatory statements and little things the characters tended to focus on like who’s taller than whom also helped remind me, at least, that my protagonists are teenagers.
I thought the book started out strong. We open with Quinn at the scene where something murderously bad has happened and Leo Ashwood has been reanimated. After a brief stint of seeing Quinn held at a police station in New York, we are transported to Oklahoma for the rest of the story. I liked the way this set up builds up some mystery. Strong also does a good job of invoking Leo Ashwood frequently—the promise that, if you read far enough, the mystery of who this character is to Quinn and why he died and got reanimated would be revealed. The fact that Ashwood gets demonstrably more powerful as the book progresses felt like a perfect dovetail between his mysterious origins and fleeting on-page scenes. Which is why it was so jarring to reach the end of the story and feel like not only has the Ashwood situation been unresolved, but the spectre of another, more significant problem threatens to eclipse the whole Ashwood fiasco.
While I enjoyed the portrayal of teenage drama, I was not a big fan of the writing. On the one hand, cycling through Quinn to Cecelia to Maggie as narrator for each chapter did help give each girl a unique voice (like Cecelia being a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and likening people in her life to characters from those books). On the other hand, it created jumps in the action. For example, we’d finish a scene with Maggie witnessing a murder, then the next chapter starts with Quinn narrating a completely unrelated scene. We have to go through Quinn’s and then Cecelia’s chapters before we get to follow back up with Maggie. The disconnect in the action didn’t stop there. The longer I read, the more I realized that only the active characters in a scene were really being accounted for. In one example, Quinn, Cecelia, Maggie, and several adult witches are at Quinn’s house when Leo Ashwood arrives. The adult witches rush outside to confront Ashwood, leaving the teenagers behind in the house with a protective spell. We hear nothing of what the adults/Ashwood are doing until the girls actually encounter Ashwood themselves, leaving me wondering what in tarnation the adult witches went carooming off into the night to do…
On the whole, I’d say this is a book that focuses on drawing out a lot of drama from a very small set of circumstances. I feel like it deals with themes that would really resonate with young adult readers, like Quinn’s constant battle to hide the fact that she reincarnated Ashwood and is desperate to “fix” it before anyone realizes she reanimated the dead. Similarly, Quinn is desperate to keep the strength of her own magic a secret, even as she demonstrates increasingly out-of-control behavior. I liked that she was so flawed, accusing others of the same terrible things she herself has done…and only justifying her actions. Still, the flow of the story feels terribly disrupted by the constantly shifting narrators and poorly connected shifts in scenes. If you’re a die hard fan of stories focusing on strong female identifying characters, books about the paranormal with a touch of gore and a bit of horror, or if any of the themes mentioned sound appealing, I think you’ll enjoy this story.