Off the Shelf: A Review of The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” he said, chest contracting as he caught his breath. “How beautiful the world becomes when you think you might have to leave it?”

I remember when I first became familiar with the very creepy concept of family annihilators – those that will kill their families to “save” them.  My exposure was all thanks to an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Binge watching Law & Order is a guilty pleasure of mine, and the episode “Family Values” had the detectives tracking down a father who went on a killing spree of his daughter’s drama teacher, his former boss, and most importantly – his entire family – before kidnapping his daughter so they could leave this world together. Why? Because he was disturbed that his daughter wore a low cut costume in a school play and would soon be performing in another play written by a homosexual. He wanted to make sure his family got to heaven, so he killed them to save their souls. It was incredibly disturbing, and at the end I kept thinking, “There can’t really be people in this world that believe that way, can there?” Unfortunately, there are.

You’ve got to hand it to Eliza Wass. She picked one heck of a topic to tackle for this novel, and she delivers a well written narrative with insight into a disturbing family dynamic.

I received an advance read copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass will be available on June 7, 2016.

cresswell plot

Summary (via Goodreads)

The woods were insane in the dark, terrifying and magical at the same time. But best of all were the stars, which trumpeted their light into the misty dark.

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.

Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice.

Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

Things I Liked

This book is one that you will definitely want to take in all at once. I started it almost immediately after receiving the galley from Disney-Hyperion, and I didn’t put it down till I was finished. It’s haunting to see what the Cresswell children are subjected to, and I think the author did a great job of making their father a figure to be feared. It has a very cult-like atmosphere, in which the Cresswells are not only expected to strictly follow the word of the Bible, but also must follow a Bible that has been written by their father who basically considers himself one of God’s prophets. You definitely will find yourself rooting for Castella and her siblings to overcome their father’s control and to find their own way in the world. It’s a strange balance for the reader to be both mystified and disgusted, and Eliza Wass does an excellent job of holding the reader’s curiosity.

I also really enjoyed Caspar and Mortimer, two of Castley’s brothers, perhaps moreso than I enjoyed Castley herself. Her interactions with each of them, and the comparison to them as the angel and devil on her shoulders was indeed accurate. I actually wish that this story had been told from Caspar’s point of view. There was a lot of depth to his character, and I really enjoyed any scene that offered an insight into his thought process. Castella was a decent narrator for the tale, but I believe Caspar’s point of view would have really taken it to the next level.

Things I Didn’t Like

Unfortunately, I believe this book might have suffered from a case of TOO MUCH editing. Or at least, that’s what I imagine must have happened. As I was reading, I frequently would picture an editor saying, “Cut this!” or “Cut that! The story doesn’t need it.” There were so many things that were left unexplained. So many backstories that really needed to be included to round out the plot. It is a rather short YA read, and I just found it lacking in a lot of areas. For example, we’re given a little glimpse into the history of Castella’s mother and father, and told that her father was once the most popular guy in his class. Yet, there’s nothing to explain why he and Castella’s mother embraced such an ideology, why they became so obsessive, etc. We get just the hints of the origins but nothing else. Also, Castella frequently carves stars in trees, which comes up frequently. Near the end, she sees a star that she knows she didn’t carve and is perplexed by how it might have gotten there. This is never explained, and is all chalked up to “does it really matter who did it?” Yeah. Yeah, actually it does, and I, for one, would like to know.

The Cresswell children and their relationships are somewhat unbelievable and hard to connect to. Their beliefs flip flop throughout the story. Castella wants to rebel (by wearing jean shorts, letting her hair down, and *GASP* smoking), and so do some of her other siblings (the only ones we really get a decent grasp of are Caspar and Mortimer… I can hardly remember the details about the other siblings other than one paints, one plays football, and one may have a lesbian crush) in other ways, but then suddenly they all hate and judge her…but wait, no, now they love her and she’s their savior! Wait…what? It was more than a little confusing having their beliefs flip flop all over the place.

It’s not just the Cresswells that are confusing though. George Gray, who is supposed to (maybe?) be Castella’s love interest in the book goes from annoying nerd who doesn’t shut up in one chapter, to super cool guy who is fun to make out with at school, to a jerk who doesn’t care what she is going through and rejects Castella because he doesn’t want a girlfriend. That whole relationship made absolutely no sense whatsoever, and not to mention, Castella’s feelings towards George and sex/kissing/relationships  are so all over the place that it really just serves to further complicate the story line.

Overall Rating

3.5/5 The story is indeed captivating, and the writing itself shows definite promise. I believe there was more to this story that wanted to be told though. As a reader, I was mesmerized by the trials and tribulations of the Cresswell children, but I think it could have benefited with more fleshing out of the fine details of character and background. I would definitely love to read more from Eliza Wass though, because her voice and style is one that definitely resonates with me.

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