In Rosemary Wells' The Man In the Woods, Helen Curragh, a 14 year-old girl, is new to New Bedford Regional High School. Another freshman, Pinky Levy, befriends her when he opens her stuck locker. Helen and Pinky are witnesses to an accident caused by "The Punk Rock Thrower" , an unidentified teenager who throws rocks at cars in New Bedford. While Pinky calls an ambulance and cares for the victims of the accident, Helen heedlessly rushes after someone she sees lurking in the woods.
As the story unfolds, a classmate of Helen's is arrested for the rock-throwing. Helen and Pinky, however, know better. In their attempts to prove the police wrong, the two uncover an historic scandal in a long-standing family of New Bedford. Helen receives death threats, but still the police disbelieve her theories on the crime.
Unfortunately, the author ruins an otherwise well-written novel in multiple ways. For one, Helen's personality, which has been strong and decisive throughout most of the story, weakens and "takes the easy way out" in the last decision she makes. Otherwise, the author's characterizations are vibrant and believable. Unfortunately, there are minor faults in the story concealed by the colorful description. Another flaw in the description is the solution of the mystery. It seems not to make any sense when taken by itself or as part of the entire story. Instead, the ending chapters appear desperate, last-minute attempts by the author to meet a publication deadline. An additional shortcoming of the book is that the tone is excessively moralistic. Helen constantly shows the male chauvinistic Pinky that she can be brave, resourceful, or whatever the situation calls for. The resolution of the story falls into a fairy tale stereotype, with Pinky and Helen having been correct in spite of the police and other adults.
Other than these weaknesses, The Man In the Woods is barely passable. The author mixes suspense, humor, history, romance, and even a little female equality with credible characters, except as already noted, to produce a mediocre book that this reviewer grades as "C." n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.