Reviewed by Ivonne Spinoza
This is an unusual book.
It’s unsettling, it’s dark, it’s sometimes even gory, but it’s definitely not your average garden variety horror. I’m not even sure if I’d classify it as horror despite the dark themes and the tone. It has horror aspects, but that doesn’t come close to doing it justice and defining it.
Some have labeled it magical realism, but I don’t think that label is quite enough either. The book is such an original approach to so many things, I’m reticent to put it in a box and would rather let the readers make up their own minds about it.
Pacing and atmosphere are masterfully created in this tale that makes you feel inside a foggy world that is a balancing act between that of the living and the sort of in-between limbo inhabited by Ava, our main character.
Ava and her father aren’t human. We don’t really know what they are, but it’s pretty clear from the start that they are some sort of being that is both otherworldly and beyond death and life. It’s also clear that they’re deeply connected to the earth because they come from the ground and it’s the ground that enables them to heal and even bring humans back to life.
Ava and her father live in a tense kind of truce, a tense peace if you’d like, with the local humans because the latter are grateful for their magic and powers, but they’re also terrified of them, and with good reason. At one point Ava says that “…while they knew that we didn’t eat and that we aged slow, they didn’t know I stole the song out of baby birds or that Father ran through the woods like a bear”.
The humans keep them at a distance but still seek them because they can cure disease and even save unborn babies in ways the reader won’t entirely understand because not even Ava really does. One thing is clear though: “The sickness isn’t gone. It just goes elsewhere.”
Through the book Ava gets involved with a man named Samson, who seems to be the only human to not be afraid of them. It is through this relationship that we see the docile and complacent Ava, who mostly did as Father said in the beginning, find her own voice and agency. In this aspect, this is also a Feminist story in a very unexpected way.
This tale is narrated through bodies. Sick bodies, the dead, Samson’s, and especially Ava’s, which we don’t quite imagine, but she leads us to believe she has made to somehow resemble a woman’s. Her body is the vehicle for us as readers to experience her growing power as the story unfolds.
I was initially drawn to this book by the intriguing cover and the promise of an otherworldly surreal world were magic and folklore mixed. It turned out to be that and so much more!
Follow Me to Ground is Sue Rainsford’s debut, published on this side of the pond by Scribner. I can’t wait to read more from her!