Before the Devil Knows You’re Here
Published October 3, 2023
About Before the Devil Knows You’re Here
A deliciously dark folk horror for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Erin Craig, blending the tall tales of Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan with Faustian elements, and centering a fierce Mexican-American poet on a quest to rescue her brother.
1836. Wisconsin Territory. All Catalina has left is her little brother—Mama died years ago, and Papa was buried just yesterday. She and Jose Luis are alone now, in their ramshackle cabin on the edge of the Wisconsin wilderness, with the cold weather coming.
As Catalina sets plans to ensure their survival, a strange man appears—a man covered in bark, leaves growing from his head, and sap dripping from his eyes. Before Catalina can stop him, he scoops Jose Luis up and disappears. He leaves behind a strange bird with crimson wings. She can’t let this man—if that’s what he is—have her brother. With no idea where they’ve gone, she tracks the bird in hopes it will lead her to Jose Luis.
Along the way, she finds help from a young Paul Bunyan, whose life has also been changed by the Man of Sap. As they travel deeper into the Northwoods, they uncover more of the Man of Sap’s history and the connections he and Catalina share, ultimately learning her fate is deeply entwined with his—set in seeds planted long ago—and now, giving her the power to change his life or end it.
The cover of this book somehow suggested a totally different story to me. I kind of wish that it included some of the story elements or characters– Catalina with her strength and pride, and Paul with his axe. An apple tree, heavy with fruit.
At any rate, I loved the concept of this story from the beginning. Taking familiar American folklore and adding Faustian elements to it created a high-stakes story that felt like it was set in old America. I loved the magical elements and eeriness of the tale.
It’s called horror, and there are a few strange/scary moments. I thought on the whole that it was more eerie than terrifying.
I loved the characters in this book, from the story of John (Johnny Appleseed) and the curse he encounters to Catalina and her quest to rescue her missing brother. Paul Bunyan’s character was really cool, too. He almost had that folk hero too-good-to-be-real thing going on, but I liked the way the author layered his character so there was more to him than met the eye.
This is a fairly quick read at less than 250 pages, which is great for anyone looking for a shorter young adult fantasy novel. I think readers who enjoy creepy stories and historical fantasy or reimagined history will like this one a lot.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
The main character and her brother are biracial: white and Mexican American.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used very infrequently. In one scene, someone says something racist toward Catalina’s family.
Kissing between boy and girl.
One character is the devil in disguise. A man receives a curse that turns him into a tree-like person, with bark for skin and sap for tears. He must carry a heavy satchel of seeds that grow into trees that produce poisoned apples that seduce people into eating them.
Situations of peril and some scary imagery. Catalina witnesses someone’s death from poison. Brief battles include fatality.
Poisoned apples kill anyone who eats them.
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