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Sharon Sutila
The Stealing
S. A. Sutila, author

Young Adult; Romance; (Market)

The must-read YA paranormal, gothic romance novel in 2022: The Stealing **Normal People meets Wuthering Heights set in '80s America** “The Stealing is a modern gothic incarnation of the classic gothic romance, featuring an independent young woman trapped in dreary and oppressive surroundings, a gentleman hero, storms at sea, a supernatural force, and a powerful, but conflicted love story. There are no vampires or werewolves in sight. But with its 1980s setting, this coming-of-age romance probes serious issues that resonate with modern readers including the harmful, isolating effects of male dominance on women, gender-role bias, and the struggle to harness inner strength and find joy in life.” She chose to die. Now she chooses to live. And love. But her spirit has been claimed by a dark presence. In the final year of high school, Sarah Vise’s life is set to start and finish on a literal dead-end street on the coast of Delaware. Abandoned by her mother, Sarah works endless hours on her domineering father’s fishing boat in the shadow of a run-down lighthouse. However, with an offer to college and after an intriguing encounter with her blue-eyed neighbour Grant, a fire is sparked inside Sarah. She is filled with a violent desire to break free and carve out her own future for herself. Sarah’s hopes are dashed however when her callous father refuses to let her leave, and in desperation, she surrenders herself to the crashing waves. Grant frantically saves her from certain death, but her weakened spirit is taken by a terrifying-if-alluring presence to the afterlife. Captivated and too beaten down by life to resist, Sarah at first allows herself to be overcome by the hunter-sage. But then she realises Max is demonic in his need to control her and she once again has to beg for her freedom. Striking a terrible deal, Sarah returns to her life and follows her heart to a devoted Grant. But the clock is ticking, and Sarah’s fate is as unpredictable as the winds that lash her prison.
Sutila’s accomplished debut, a paranormal YA gothic romance, distinguishes itself from the first pages with vivid characters, storytelling, and prose, all in a haunted 1980s setting touched with the uncanny but more interested in hard truths about the era than easy nostalgia. On the Delaware coast, beneath the abandoned Port Mahon lighthouse, an arresting world of sea turtles and shucking houses, high school senior Sarah toils on her father’s fishing boat, the Outlaw. Sarah feels trapped, especially when her father tells her “Girls don’t need to go to college” and demands she get back to what he believes she exists to do: make nets. Feeling alone and hopeless, shaken by memories of her father’s abuse of her late mother, Sarah attempts to end her life – but she’s saved by the timely intervention of powers beyond her understanding.

Sarah faces unbearable choices best left unspoiled. Suffice it to say, her early plunge into the Atlantic does not end her story, and after complications involving her “spirit” and the attentions of a mysterious and controlling figure named Max, Sarah is caught between living and death—and also between love interests, with taloned Max demanding a promise from her. Meanwhile, in this mortal realm, her heart yearns for Grant, a neighbor who is, in Sutila’s inimitable phrase, “jeans-commercial handsome.

Such striking language abounds in The Stealing. Readers will taste the salty sea air as Sarah strives to take control over her life—and Sutila layers on rich, convincing atmosphere and detail. The prose edges toward the dense at times, diminishing narrative momentum, but often achieving what fans of gothics want most from the genre: the chance to soak in powerfully evoked feeling. Sutila evinces a welcome revisionist spirit, affording Sarah 21st century agency while honoring the gothic tradition and the not-quite-enlightened 1980s, but what readers will remember most is the novel’s briny milieu.

Takeaway: An arresting modern gothic whose heroine gets caught between life and death, sea and land.

Great for fans of: Eve Bunting’s Forbidden, Caitlin Starling’s The Death of Jane Lawrence.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A