The Hanging Woods is a dark story of deep family and personal dysfunction. Set in rural Alabama in 1975, the three main characters at first seem to live idyllic lives from a more simple time and place: whittling toothpicks from fence posts, building tree forts and eating boiled peanuts for a quarter a bag. Then Walter reads his mother’s diary and everything changes. He learns a terrible secret that plays a pivotal role in the events of that summer, ripping open a web of lies and leading to the destruction of three families. Part of what makes this book interesting are the details: the fact that Walter's mother will not acknowlege one of his friends due to a mysterious feud; a plan to gain fame by setting a record for the longest-lived fowl without a head; the trips to spy on the town's feared "Troll".
As the story unfolds, each character becomes more complex and the veneer of perfection disappears. The three boys, while best friends, are tied together as much by bullying and kept secrets as by friendship. Each is emotionally troubled, due to neglect, abuse and mental illness, and each deals with their problems in unhealthy ways. The outcome of their friendship is disaster and death. This is a good read—a tense thriller that moves toward a disturbing end.