Sharon Gosling’s Fir was an interesting addition to the already extensive collection of YA horror, but like many books in the genre didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Fir tells the story of the Stromberg family, who leave their comfortable inner city Stockholm life to move to a remote tree farm where the Stromberg patriarch hopes to rebuild the lumber business. But there is something out in the old growth forest that begins terrorising the family, while they try and survive the harshness of Sweden’s remote winters.
There were some fascinating elements in Fir. The forest had character, and the descriptions of the woods, the cold, the dark and the isolation were incredibly well rendered. There were some promising moments with the introduction of old world mythology which had the potential to make this a much deeper story and Gosling took the opportunity to make some important and tactful observations about environmental ethics without coming across as forceful or on the nose.
Unfortunately, despite these elements, Fir utterly failed to be believable. Within the first few pages, it had already fallen into the YA trap of choosing just to have unreasonably rubbish parents to mask the fact that it’s difficult to write a believable relationship between a teenager and a parent once you’re past the age where you no longer rely on them. I say difficult, which is why so many YA authors just either omit the adults of the story entirely (I’m looking at you Leo Hunt) or make them such caricatures of bad parenting that the focus naturally sways toward its teenage protagonists. Their reactions to situations and lack of communication with their daughter were simply not believable, and so made the plot feel entirely contrived.
One of the most effective elements was that the plot developed to allow for some ambiguity as to the truth of the ‘supernatural’ occurrences in the book. I liked this, as it left it entirely open to interpretation, and made the premise of isolation even more frightening. Letting the characters’ experiences speak for themselves made the local mythology even more interesting, as it highlighted how remote isolation could give rise to fears like these. Had the book ended before the appendix I might have rated it far higher, but instead, Gosling chose to spoon feed the readers a supernatural ending that detracted from the whole narrative. A book is only as good as its ending, so had it ended a few pages earlier, it would have been a much better book.
Overall, Fir was a quick and easy read. It wasn’t particularly cerebral, certainly didn’t bring much to the YA horror genre, but was most definitely full of unrealised potential. The plot had the potential to be unique with a critical message about environmental responsibility, but instead just read as a generic supernatural YA story about bad parenting.