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Is Courtney Gould's Where Echoes Die Too Similar to Her Debut Novel? (book review)

GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 337 pages

Beck Birschling and her sister travel to Backravel, Arizona. Their late mother was writing a report on the small, strange desert town when she died.

The novel's main characters are Beck, her younger sister Riley, and Avery (the daughter of the town leader). The main antagonist is Backravel's leader, Ricky.
Riley is coping much better than Avery with their mother's death and doesn't really contribute a lot to the story itself. I was actually a tad disappointed she didn't have more of a role to play as she and Beck have a more complicated sibling relationship than most. There was a lot of potential to explore that more that wasn't taken. Really, though, you could remove Riley from the story and not much would change.
Beck and Avery's relationship is reminiscent of the main couple from Gould's debut, The Dead and the Dark. Both couples start out on opposing sides of a conflict. In this case, Beck is trying to uncover Backravel's secrets while Avery, as the daughter of the town's leader, is skeptical of her. In both books the girls end up becoming allies of sorts and open up to each other and, eventually, fall in love. I didn't have any strong feelings about their relationship.
Ricky is the typical charismatic leader that you'd think of as a cult leader character and in a sense that is what Backravel is. He's also your archetype of the tragic villain. He is man twisted by grief who believes he is doing the right thing.

The novel is told from the first person perspective of Beck. Thematically it deals with the topics of grief, obsession, and parentification (with Beck having to be the grown-up/caretaker in her family despite having had a mother). Grief was also one of the prevailing themes in The Dead and the Dark though I'd argue it's more prevalent in this book.
Gould has a tendency to use symbolism in her books which is something she does very beautifully. In this case, the town of Backravel is a town that is lost in time. This is symbolic of Beck and Ricky being stuck in the past and their grief. Gould also has very atmospheric writing. The atmosphere of this book is one of uneasy isolation and confusion. However, the actual descriptions of the time travel 'treatments' in this book are quite vague and repetitive which grew frustrating.
The plot of this book and Gould's debut are quite similar. The Dead and the Dark was set in a small town cut off from the bigger world where something mysterious is happening. The main character of that book, Logan, is an outsider who shows up to investigate the source and falls in love with a town local. That's almost the exact plot of this book except substitute the Dark for the time-traveling element. I felt like I was getting deja vu while reading this book.

I think Gould is a talented writer when it comes to symbolism, but I worry she's going to make herself look like a one trick pony. This book is simply too similar to her debut. Readers don't want to read the same story twice from an author. Even though I liked this book, it's a lesser version of her debut. I hope with her third book she expands and challenges herself as a writer.

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