Book Description: Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.
Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.
Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid-the unpredictable water spirits-have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.
And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.
Review: Obviously, I was excited for this book. I’ve been patiently waiting and waiting for its release, and the second I spotted an e-copy available, I rushed to snag it. And then…I delayed reading it! Mostly because I was so excited that I wanted to ensure that I had as much uninterrupted time as possible to read major chunks of it. I’m typically fairly good about being able to pick up books and read a few pages here and there throughout the day and enjoy them as much as reading any other way. But, like every avid reader, I feel, there’s nothing like having a solid chunk of hours/days solely devoted to reading. And the cherry on top of that cake is having what is sure to be an excellent read to fill it! So I waited until my husband and I headed up north for a cabin trip and then whizzed through this book in blissful, quiet hours reading by the fire.
The story picks up a few years after the events of “The City of Brass.” Our two main protagonists from the first book, Nahri and Ali, are both making due with a life that hasn’t gone to plan. Nahri, married through a political alliance to the heir to a throne that had been stolen from her family generations ago, has continued to learn to master her own healing abilities and navigate the unfamiliar historical and political upheaval at the heart of djinn society. Ali has made a quiet life for himself living in a small village, banished from his beloved home city. There, he has been diligently trying to hide the residual water powers that he has developed after his experience with the marid in the lake around Daevabad. Joining our main two narrators, we also have chapter perspectives from Dara, a character that is believed dead by Nahri and Ali after the events of the last book.
What struck me most forcefully in the first book was the complicated and detailed world and history that the author had built. This wasn’t simply a story of the now, it was a story of how hundreds and thousands of years shaped what is the current situation. Similar to the true history of the Middle East, nothing is so simple as what can bullet pointed with current tension points. No, you have to dig back through centuries to understand a complicated history that more and more begins to resemble an impossible knot. So, too, in this fantasy version of the region. The first book laid the foundation, but this one really dives into the bigger questions that arise in a situation like this, where wrong-doings have been being committed for centuries and no party is innocent. Where is the line between justice, revenge, pride, and simple violence? When atrocities have been committed for centuries, one people to be repressed by another, only to rise and switch the roles for a few more centuries, who’s “wrongs” outweigh the other’s? There is no easy answer, and Chakraborty does a masterful job of portraying just how challenging finding peace and resolution in situations so whetted in historical conflict can be.
And to tackle all of these complex themes, we have our main characters. Nahri continues to be the stand-out character for me in this series. Not only is she approaching this situation from an outsider’s perspective, often giving her the most healthy and balanced outlook on the situation, but she is an eminently practical and resilient character. Where other books would get bogged down in the angst and drama of an arranged marriage, Nahri has persevered. She knows where her power lies and recognizes the powerlessness of those around her as well; for everything else, she will make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation. I can’t say how relieved I was to find that the book didn’t get caught up in relationship drama, as far as her arranged marriage goes. Too often I think this type of romantic drama is misidentified as action in and of its own. But here, it’s clear that Nahri’s priorities are much bigger than worrying about her political marriage. She has a proper perspective on not only her own challenges, but the challenges of her people and city.
Ali, too, was still a fantastic character. If anything, I grew to like him more and more as this book continued. He, too, has had to face the realities of his own idealistic tendencies. While he still had moments where I wanted to slap him around the side of the head (because again, Nahri sometimes seemed to be the only adult in the room), his arc was compelling. I particularly enjoyed the deeper look into his relationship with his siblings.
Dara, our new character POV, was also a fantastic addition. He operates outside of the main action of the city for the majority of the story, but through him, we can see the conflict coming that both Nahri and Ali are ignorant of. Further, Dara, more so than the other two, truly understands the horrors of the past, having lived through much of it. His wrestling with these issues felt that much more poignant for having residual PTSD, essentially, from his own actions. It was heart-breaking reading him come up against some of these same terrible choices once again.
I also can’t say enough good things about the general strength of the writing in these books. Chakraborty pens her words with a solid, confident stroke. Not only is the imagery beautiful, but the dialogue is snappy and the philosophical explorations are cleverly drawn. It’s a big task to try to address such large and complicated issues as the ones presented in this book. But to do it, while also not losing sight of her characters and presenting a compelling book that feels fast-paced throughout? Incredible! Fans of the first book are sure to be happy with this one (though I will say, you have to be patient for the Dara/Nahri) re-union! The story also leaves off with a fairly sizeable cliff-hanger, so beware of that. But don’t let that put you off!
Rating 10: Simply excellent. No second-book slump here!
“The Kingdom of Copper” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy of color.”
Book: “The Rich Girl” (Fear Street #44) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Fear Street — Where Your Worst Nightmares Live…
Emma and her best friend Sydney always share their secrets. And now they have a big one: They found a duffel bag filled with cash and swore never to tell anyone. But Sydney broke her promise — she told her boyfriend, Jason.
Now Emma is terrified. She doesn’t trust Jason. She knows he would do anything to get the money for himself.
Even if it means killing someone who gets in his way…
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: Sydney Shue and Emma Naylor are best friends to the end. They’ve been BFFs for years, though Sydney thinks that they’re growing apart because Emma doesn’t like Sydney’s boyfriend Jason. But they get to spend time at work together, as they both work at the movie theater. During one of their shifts, Emma is talking about how she’s worried, because her mother needs an operation on her knee, but without insurance Emma doesn’t know how they’re going to pay for it. Emma and her mother are practically broke, while Sydney lives in North Hills and therefore isn’t lacking anything (but insists that she isn’t spoiled because her parents made her get a job). Emma is also worried because the diner her mother works at six days a week is threatening to fire her because her bad knee has made her slower, and some things never really change, do they? Sydney thinks that she probably never could understand Emma’s anxieties given that she’s rich, and while I appreciate the self awareness, I wonder if Sydney could do more than just acknowledge her privilege? At the end of their shift they are taking trash out to the dumpster, when Sydney drops her charm bracelet into the heaps of garbage. She insists that Emma help her look for it, and a dumpster diving we will go! Sydney finds it, but it’s stuck to a garbage covered duffel bag. They climb out of the dumpster with the bag, and as she untangles her bracelet they notice a fifty dollar bill poking out of the sack! And when they unzip it, they find STACKS of them! By Emma’s estimation, it’s probably close to 100,000 dollars!!! Sydney is ready to turn it in, but Emma says that they should totally keep it! If they keep it her mother can have her operation, Emma can go to college, AND she can buy some nice clothes! I don’t know if I care for this ‘the poor person is going to be the duplicitous one’ development. Sydney says that it’s wrong, and Emma tells her that she wouldn’t get it because she’s RICH and of course this is chump change. To which Sydney says that hey, SHE isn’t totally spoiled or anything! After all, she has a VERY tight allowance AND has to pay for the insurance to the car that her parents got her for her birthday!
Emma says that if the keep it they can split it and then Sydney can spend it on whatever she wants. Sydney points out that they have no idea where it came from, and that the police could be looking for it. So Emma suggests that they hide it for now, and if they don’t hear anything about it then they go back and get it. Sydney agrees, and ladies, this could possibly end with a crazed assassin chasing you down with a captive bolt pistol.
Emma and Sydney agree to hide it out in Fear Woods, and while they are digging Sydney starts feeling paranoid. After they bury the money a raccoon jumps out and scares her, and Emma says they need to stop being paranoid. When Sydney gets home and drives her car up the long driveway and to the horse stables (but don’t worry, since they ONLY have TWO horses they converted most of the stables to a garage), she sees Jason working on her father’s Beemer. She totally forgot that they were going to study that night! She gets out of the car and he asks her why she was late, and when she tries to lie and say that she had to work late he gets VERY mad and says he knows she’s lying. He demands to know if she’s been cheating on him. Because obviously THAT’S the only reason she could be late, of course. Sydney can’t think of another good lie on the spot, so she tells him about the money. I can think of a few lies that could have worked, dummy.
“Emma was having a rough time because of her mother’s health issues and we had to talk.”
“I realized that I forgot something at work and didn’t want to wait until my next shift to get it.”
“It’s actually none of your business where I was.” And that’s not even a lie.
Once Sydney sings like a canary, Jason asks if it was her who found the money. Sydney says she found the bag but Emma was the one who opened it. Jason says that’s too bad, because since she has claim to it they would have to murder her if they wanted to split the money between the two of them. Okay, first of all, NONE OF YOU HAVE ANY CLAIM TO IT, and second of all, YIKES. Sydney is shocked, and Jason says he’s kidding. I, however, am not so sure.
At school the next day Sydney is a complete basket case because she can’t stop worrying about the money. But Emma is far from worried, she’s excited because there hasn’t been any news reports about it as of yet, and if that continues for two weeks it’s all theirs! Sydney says they shouldn’t talk about it so brazenly, and Emma tells her to chill out. As they are walking to class they approach the big cement staircase, a group of classmates sweeps in behind them, and suddenly Emma plummets down the steps, screaming! She lands on the concrete below, and Sydney sees that Jason is standing there, possibly smiling at this turn of events! Sydney runs down the steps to get to her friend.
Luckily, Emma isn’t dead, and after the school nurse checks her out Sydney drives her home and calls her family’s personal doctor to check her over. After he leaves, Sydney goes to sit with Emma, who confides that Jason pushed her! Sydney freezes up, and Emma asks her if she told him about the money, to which Sydney admits her dumb mistake. Emma says that he must be trying to kill her to try and get her share, and Sydney asks why he would do that given that he’s pretty well off himself, and Emma says that it’s because he’s GREEDY! Sydney doesn’t want to believe it, but she can’t help remembering what his face looked like…
Sydney confronts Jason the next day, and he says that no way, he didn’t push her! But he does admit to accidentally bumping into her, which sent her careening down the steps. He says that she’s never going to forgive him, and Sydney, relieved that her boyfriend isn’t an attempted murderer, tells him that he can just explain what happened. He suggests that he could look at Emma’s junky old car and give it a tune up as an apology, and Sydney thinks that’s a great idea! So later Sydney is back at home, and gets a phone call from Emma who tells her that Jason has fixed her car and it sounds much better now! She says that she’s still suffering from headaches, but that Jason also told her everything and she isn’t suspicious of him anymore. She then tells Sydney they should go to the mall so that she can plan out everything she’s going to buy with the money (though I THOUGHT that she was going to use it to pay for her mother’s operation and college? Both those things would eat up $50,000 I’d think). She tells Sydney to meet her at her house and she’ll drive, and Sydney agrees. After she hangs up, Jason calls and sees if she’s busy, and Sydney says she’s going to the mall with Emma in her now fixed car. Jason, of course, starts acting strange asking that she isn’t going in EMMA’S car, is she, and Sydney says yes, and he says that she should cancel and hang out with him instead! Sydney says no, and hangs up.
Sydney arrives at Emma’s house and the girls get in Emma’s junk bucket (though it sure does sound better), but as Emma is driving down a hill the brakes don’t work! Would she not have noticed this when she was pulling out of her driveway and through her neighborhood??? Regardless, the car is out of control and side swipes some other vehicles as it blasts through an intersection, and Sydney tells her to pull the emergency brake! The car eventually comes to a stop, and Emma says that it has to have been Jason! He IS trying to kill her, and while Sydney balks Emma’s fears do seem more realized. They get out and inspect under the hood, and low and behold, the break lines have been cut. Sydney admits that when Jason called her and she told him she was going to the mall in Emma’s car, he sounded strange, and for Emma that tears it! Emma says that Jason is so greedy he will probably kill Sydney next, and while Sydney doesn’t want to believe it, she starts to think maybe Emma is right. She wants to call the police, but Emma says no because she needs the money for her Mom’s operation!!
Emma then has a really good idea. She suggests that, so he won’t try to kill the girls for it, that the cut him in for a third of it. That way he will get more money than he had before, but he’ll stop trying to murder her and then probably Sydney. Sydney agrees.
So they go to confront Jason about the brake lines, and he swears, SWEARS that the car was fine when he was done with it. Sydney thinks he’s telling the truth because he looks ‘so upset’, and Emma proposes that they give him a cut of the money. Jason is ecstatic! 33,000 dollars is no joke, and they all seem happy with the new arrangement. Jason then says that they should go look at the money right now! Sydney is hesitant, but the eventually decide that they can just quickly go and dig it up to take a look. By the time they get out to Fear Woods it’s dark, and Jason grabs the shovel from Sydney’s trunk and they trek out to the site. Sydney gets cold, and goes back to her car to get her sweater, but as she’s coming back she hears Emma screaming! She runs the rest of the way and sees Jason and Emma struggling! When Sydney yells at them to stop, Jason turns to look at her… and Emma smashes him in the head with the shovel! He falls to his knees, and then falls on his face. And doesn’t get up. Emma checks on him, and tells Sydney that he’s dead!! Sydney asks what the FUCK happened, and Emma says that he tried to take the money, and when she tried to stop he he went nuts. She offered him half, but he said he wanted it all and tried to hit her with the shovel! They struggled, and that’s when Sydney arrived. Sydney says that they’re murderers, and Emma says that SHE is the murderer. Sydney wants to call the police, but Emma says she will take care of everything! She will sink his body in Fear Lake and none will be the wiser! She tells Sydney to just sit and relax (?!) and she’ll take care of it. Sydney falls against a tree, and Emma buries the cash again and drags his body into the darkness. Sydney hears a splash, but then Emma calls for her. Sydney comes running, and Emma says that his body won’t sink! Sydney gives her her belt so that she can tie it to his body to attach a weight to him, but then is feeling way too sick all of a sudden to help Emma find something to weigh him down. Emma is surprisingly cavalier about the whole thing and says she’s on it. Sydney looks away, and eventually Emma finds her and tells her that it’s over.
Sydney drops Emma off, who starts to cry as it starts to hit her just what she did. Sydney assures her that no one will know what happened and that they had no choice. That seems to calm Emma down, and Sydney goes home. She tries to study for her upcoming history test, and then goes to bed. But in the middle of the night she wakes up to see waterlogged corpse-y Jason standing at the foot of her bed, glaring at her!!! She screams and jumps out of her bed, but when she turns on the light there’s no one there. Just a dream…. But then the next morning she finds muddy footprints on the floor by her bed! And they’re size JASON!!!
At school that day Sydney is telling Emma all about this, and Emma says that she has to be imagining things. A dream can’t leave foot prints, after all, and they must just be Sydney’s footprints because she was in such a daze. All day people keep asking Sydney where Jason is (AS IF SHE’S HIS KEEPER), and her guilt gets worse and worse. She ‘s sure she flunks the history test, and then when she opens her locker she finds an envelope… and inside is Jason’s class ring, all muddy!!! Sydney freaks out and shows Emma, and tells her that it was on Jason’s corpse last night when he was in her room! Emma says that she has to be mistaken, she didn’t see the ring on Jason’s hand. Maybe he left it for her yesterday, but Sydney doesn’t remember seeing it. But then again, Sydney feels like she’s going crazy! Emma tells her to calm down and not to lose it. Sydney tries to get a grip, but doesn’t have a chance in HELL of doing so because when they get to her car, they find the muddy and bloody shovel in her back seat!! Emma says that she forgot to hide it, and now they think that someone must have seen them! They get in Sydney’s car and drive back to Sydney’s house (after Sydney thinks that someone is following them for a bit). Sydney THEN finds a note in her stack of mail that says ‘I saw you in the woods, I know your name. It’s MURDERER’. Sydney starts to panic again, and Emma says that even if this person DID see them, they have no proof that they killed Jason… But then Sydney points out that they used her belt to tie a weight to him! Emma says that they can’t go back to the lake, but Sydney insists. SO, they drive back out to the lake so they can retrieve her belt. Emma leads them to the pond scummiest part of the water and says this is where she dumped him, but when Emma plunges her arms into the water to grab for him, she can’t find him. Emma insists this is where she dumped him, but the body is gone!
Emma says that someone must have moved the body. It couldn’t be the police since they would have told Jason’s parents about his death. Sydney is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as they’re leaving.
Sydney gets home and sneaks into the house so she doesn’t have to explain to her parents why she looks like she just crawled out of the Black Lagoon. After she showers her mother tells her that she and Sydney’s father are going to a fundraiser for the evening. Sydney is happy to stew in her guilt alone, and as he goes into her room she notices that someone has tied something around her teddy bear…. And yeah, it’s her belt, with a note in Jason’s handwriting that says ‘murderer’. She calls Emma and tells her what she found, and asks Emma if she was sure that Jason was dead, and Emma says yes, she was sure, and Sydney asks if Emma believes in ghosts. Emma says that she got a note too, and it must be someone from school and Sydney can’t get hysterical. But Sydney says she’s pretty much already there, so it’s a little late for that. Emma says she’ll come over. Sydney can’t be in the same room as the belt and note, so she goes to wait for Emma on the porch. When Emma arrives Sydney takes her to her room to show her the note, but of course the note and belt are gone!!! Sydney starts to tear her room apart looking for them, and Emma watches her, telling her to stop! Sydney says that she isn’t crazy, but when her Mom knocks on the door she tells Emma she can’t let her mother see her like this, so Emma covers. Mrs. Shue says she and her husband are leaving for the fundraiser. Emma helps Sydney clean up her room, and tells her that she needs to get some sleep. Sydney says she’ll at least walk Emma out, and she watches her friend drive away. But when Sydney goes back to her room, algae and mud covered Jason is standing there! Sydney tries closing her eyes, but when she opens them he’s still there! He starts to lurch forward, rasping about how she let him die, and he descends on her.
Cut to a hospital waiting room, where Emma is sitting. When a doctor comes out, JASON is following him! The doctor says that he thought that his patient was ready to see him, but apparently not. Jason says that he’s so sad that she sees him as a monster. He and Emma leave the waiting room, and when they get to the car she asks if all is well. And he says that yes it is: Sydney is completely nuts! And they drove her to it! Yep, they faked his death and used it to drive her mad. The night after Emma and Sydney found the money, Emma went to Jason with the plan to drive Sydney crazy because she knew that her conscience would get the best of her. They figure that she’s so rich already that she doesn’t NEED the money! Plus, they’d been hooking up behind Sydney’s back for awhile, their antagonistic relationship all a ploy. Now Sydney is in a mental institution, and even if she does get out and get better, no one will believe her because she’s been diagnosed as delusional!
So the whole time it wasn’t “No Country for Old Men”, it was “Les Diaboliques”. Now that Sydney is out of the way, Jason and Emma are content to take the money for themselves and now they can really be together. They go on a shopping spree with a handful of the cash, and pick out a lot of really expensive clothes to buy! But when they get up to the cash register, the clerk laughs at the money. When Emma looks down at the cash, not only does it say ‘UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA”, it also has Ben Franklin sporting cross eyes and a backwards baseball cap. Emma is about to faint, and the sales clerk asks her if she ‘brought any real money?’ The End.
Body Count: 0. I wish there had been a zombie plot line, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Romance Rating: 0. Jason was cheating on Sydney with her supposed best friend and they gaslit her to the point that she had a mental breakdown. Gross.
Bonkers Rating: 4. I am giving it a four because sure, there was a big crazy twist at the end there, but it’s, like I said, just a rip off of “Les Diaboliques”! It’s not original in any way!
Fear Street Relevance: 6. They buried the money in Fear Woods and then dumped Jason’s ‘body’ in Fear Lake.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“‘Come here!’ Emma’s voice shook with fear again. ‘You’ve got to see this!’
Sydney scrambled out of the car, rushed up to Emma, and stared under the hood. ‘Huh?’ she cried, her heart racing. ‘I don’t see anything. What are you showing me?'”
… This isn’t a cliffhanger!!! This would have been a cliffhanger if you stopped at ‘You’ve got to see this!’
That’s So Dated! Moments: Given that there is talk of pre-ACA insurance issues, I’d say that dates this, but not in a fun and kooky way. But I did have to laugh that one of the extravagant gifts that Sydney bought Jason in the past was a beeper. I feel like even for 1997 those were on the way out…
“‘That’s their fourth breakup and make-up this year,’ Emma remarked… ‘Let’s see, this is April, right? They’ll probably break up and get back together at least two more times before school’s out. They’re definitely going to set a record.'”
It’s not great, but there wasn’t much to work with.
Conclusion: “The Rich Girl” was ultimately disappointing and a serious bummer in a lot of ways. It wasn’t as bad as some of the other books I’ve read in the series, but it’s definitely one of the most frustrating. Next up is “Cat”!
Book Description: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass–a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .
Giveaway Details: I have raved on and on about my love for “The City of Brass.” So of course I did everything in my power to get my hands on the sequel, “The Kingdom of Copper,” as quickly as possible. Spoiler alert: I loved it, too! My review for that book will be coming up later this week, but to get everyone in the properly anticipatory mood, I’ve decided to host a giveaway for the first book in the series. That way, if you’re not on board this train yet (why oh why not?!), here’s your chance to get caught up before checking out the brilliant sequel!
Book Description: Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax have seen things so bizarre that no sane person would believe their story. No one would believe that aliens have taken over Earth, and are in the process of infesting as many humans as possible. No one could believe the battles and missions and losses these six kids have had to deal with. And it’s not over yet.
Tobias has been captured by the same human-Controller that nearly tortured him to death once before. She claims that she’s now a part of the Yeerk Peace Movement. That she just needs a favor. Tobias isn’t sure what to believe, but he knows that if the Animorphs and Ax don’t find him soon, what he believes won’t matter anymore…
Plot: Our favorite Yeerk psychopath/torturer is back! Taylor shows up once again and is ready and able to make Tobias’s already generally miserable existence that much worse.
On one of his usual fly-overs above the woods, Tobias stumbles upon a search and rescue attempt for a small boy who’s been lost. Communicating through thought-speak with the father, Tobias successfully leads rescuers to the kid. But he’s quickly taken out by a golden eagle. Luckily, the human rescuers save the “superhero hawk,” and Tobias awakes in a cage in the clinic. He sees on TV that his rescue has become a news story and knows that odd animal behavior like this is sure to attract the Yeerks. And sure enough, soon Hork Bajir barge into the clinic and nab his cage. On their way out, they’re attacked by the Animorphs who are there on a rescue mission. In the madness, Taylor, Tobias’s torturer/nemesis from several books ago, shows up and manages to knock out Tobias with a gas and steal him away. During the madness, however, Tobias manages to acquire Taylor.
He wakes up in a grimy trailer. Taylor proceeds to try to convince him that she is on the outs with the Yeerks, and that she and other Yeerks have decided to form a rebel force against leadership that they see as failing them. They want the “Andalite bandits” to help. She then opens the cage and lets Tobias go free. He immediately heads to Rachel’s house and the two decide to meet with the others.
At Cassie’s barn, after discussing the likelihood that Taylor is cray cray, Jake leaves the decision to Tobias. He decides that they need to hear more. Using a janky computer set-up that Ax has devised, they log in to a webpage that Taylor had given Tobias and leave a message board comment agreeing to meet up. They do so at Borders bookstore where Tobias comes in his new Taylor morph while the others take up positions around the store. The two Taylors sit down and the real Taylor begins detailing her mission: she wants the “Andalites” to morph Taxxon and tunnel down to the Yeerk pool. Then she will release a natural gas pipeline leak that will explode, killing tons of Yeerks. In exchange for their help, Taylor will get them access to Visser Three. During the meeting, however, the real girl, Taylor, briefly breaks through and tries to warn Tobias off.
At the mall, the group meets up once again to decide whether to go through with Taylor’s plan. While expressing various levels of disgust and ruthlessness, they all decide on the mission, except for Cassie who refuses to participate. She briefly mentions that large number of human hosts will be killed, but focuses mostly on the idea that the Yeerk Peace movement might also be hurt by this action. She compares it to blowing up the mall that they’re all sitting in now. This makes everyone uncomfortable, but the others see the strategic advantage as too high to miss out on.
The next day, Ax and Tobias (in Andalite morph) meet up with Taylor to acquire a Taxxon she has captured. It goes about as well as expected, with Ax having to kill the Taxxon but both still managing to acquire it. They then meet up with the other Animorphs near the natural gas station to begin tunneling. Cassie is there to see where they will be working, but will be leaving, still refusing to participate.
Tobias morphs first and struggles to control the Taxxon morph. After almost killing his friends, he realizes that he will never be able to completely control the Taxxon’s all-consuming hunger, but instead can only direct it towards tunneling, eating the dirt as he goes. As he comes up against the two-hour time limit, he is just able to regain enough control to demorph. Then it is Ax’s turn. Ax, too, manages to gain cautious control of the Taxxon and begins tunneling. However, again, close to the two hour limit, the others realize that he’s lost some degree of control because he is not responding and has not returned to the surface to de-morph. They go after him, only to discover him almost passed out at the end of the tunnel. Turns out that Taxxons, in their crazed hunger, will literally kill themselves through exhausted eating of things that don’t contain nutrients, like dirt. They manage to get him to demorph, however, and Tobias once again takes over tunneling duty.
At last, he breaks into the top of the Yeerk pool. Looking down, he sees the usual chaos of weeping hosts and the horrible pool. But he also notices a large group of humans that look oddly calm, even determined. Before he has a chance to wonder too much about this, Taylor shows up and begins taunting him and trying to convince him in joining her attempt to take over the Yeerk Empire. When he refuses, she jabs him with her paralysis gas again and runs back up the tunnel. He tries to call out to warn the others, but they respond that they’ve already been paralyzed and are helpless to do anything.
Tobias manages to drag himself back up the tunnel. He catches up to her just as she reaches the gas line, but isn’t able to stop her before she blows a hole in it and toxic gas shoots out, knocking out the air and pushing them all back down the tunnel towards the Yeerk pool. The Animorphs all manage to catch on to each other through various holds and bites, and Taxxon!Tobias scrambles to keep hold on the tunnel walls, breaking off many legs in the process. Tobais’s Taxxon body is more able to handle the lack of clean air, and he manages to drag his barely conscious friends back up the tunnel to fresh air. They realize the gas has been turned off and all demorph.
They get to the main gas building and find Controlled!humans laying on the floor, badly injured. In a back room, they find Cassie crying. She had turned off the gas and was struggling with having to viciously attack the people in the gas building to accomplish it.
The next day, Tobias and Rachel fly to a private beach that they have discovered. Once their, Rachel demorphs and Tobias morphs his human body. Rachel confirms that Jake had told Cassie that she could warn the Yeerk Peace group, and once she had, she discovered that all of the Yeerks in the movement had organized to feed at the pool on the same days. And one of those days was the day of Taylor’s attack. Taylor had been working with Visser Three the entire time and the plan had been to take out both the “Andalite bandits” and the Yeerk Peace movement all in one hit, pinning the disaster on the Yeerk Peace participants to boot. Rachel tries to reassure Tobias that they couldn’t have known, that they operated on the best information they had, and that through their actions they saved the Yeerk Peace group. Tobias wonders if Taylor survived. But, in the end, he and Rachel hold hands and agree that they can’t worry about what is done, but only move forward.
A Hawk’s Life: Per the usual, this Tobias book deep dives into all of the issues. I think this might be a reason why Tobias, Marco, and Jake books are often listed as the most popular by other fans. Each of these three have ongoing challenges that they face throughout the entire series, and it’s a rare book for any of them that doesn’t touch on one of the main themes important to that character. Marco’s, of course, is his mother. Jake’s is his struggles with leadership and his own growing ruthlessness. And Tobias has…a bunch! And, unlike Jake and Marco, every single Tobias book has one of these issues, if not multiple, at its heart.
Not only does he have the challenges of his life as a hawk, and with it, the biggest question of all “who is he?” But he also struggles with what lead to his life as a hawk. And then, after his book before this one, he continues to feel the psychological repercussions of his capture and torture at the hands of Taylor. These last two, cowardice and the PTSD from torture, are a big focus for him in this book.
Throughout the book, Tobias struggles with his ongoing reaction to being tortured by Taylor. He sees his own reaction as one of cowardice and weakness, one that only Taylor knows. Whether she actually thinks of him this way or not, we do see her clearly taking advantage of his insecurities on these points throughout the book. In response, Tobias also insists on being the one to interact with Taylor the most. All of these thoughts come to a head when he comes up to the Yeerk pool and is looking out over it with Taylor whispering her evil words into his ear. At the same time, he sees the spot where he hid out way back in book one and became stuck as a hawk. He questions whether this, too, was a form of cowardice. That he could have done more to avoid this fate, but some part of him was too scared to go back to the challenges of the life he had before.
There’s a lot of great exploration of all of these topics, and less than what one could hope for as far as resolutions go. There are a couple throw-away lines towards the end where Tobias resolves once again not to fret about the past, but we’ve all heard that before. However, even without reaching any grand conclusions, I really enjoyed the deeper look into Tobias’s psyche and the fact that the events from his torture session are still playing large in his mind, even before Taylor shows up.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s got some typical “big leader moments,” what with knowing that Tobias ultimately needs to be the one to decide whether to go forward with working with Taylor, to accepting the fact that Cassie disagrees with their plan to the point of refusing to participate, but decides that the group will go on without her. There’s also a pretty dark moment, pretty important in the grand scheme of things, that if Tom is a victim of this attack, that is a risk worth taking for the larger advantage.
For all of that, this book sits very oddly with the last Jake book being the one that handled the topic of terrorism so thoroughly. Throughout his entire last book, Jake struggled with the question of terrorism and its role in warfare. He also was routinely horrified by it and saw it as one of the biggest markers of how wrong things had gone in that alternate reality. But here, in what is clearly the biggest act of terrorism the Animorphs would have ever participated in (hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent humans and Hork Bajir, and others, would die in this attack), he doesn’t seem to have any thoughts on the matter or references to his past struggles. Perhaps if his terrorism book had come earlier in the series, it would be easier to buy that he had hardened himself since then to making decisions like this. But…it was literally two books ago. It reads as really strange.
Xena, Warrior Princess: We see Rachel operating as Tobias’s primary support system throughout the book. She’s the one who constantly turns to him to see how he is dealing with the whole Taylor business, and she’s the one to talk him around in the end.
But we also seem some interesting shifts for herself throughout the book. It’s no surprise that she’s one of the first ones to be on-board for the mission when they are discussing next steps in the mall. Action is always preferred to inaction for Rachel, and she (with Marco and often Jake) is more likely to fall on the ruthless side of things as far as necessary sacrifices in war. But we also see her have a pretty major breakdown about three-fourths of the way through the book, questioning whether they are doing the right thing. It’s a really nice moment that serves as a reminder that a well-drawn portrayal of Rachel’s character can, and should, include more than just her ruthless (often shown as “mindless”) streak.
Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s some pretty good stuff for Cassie’s character in this book. One thing I did find very strange, however, was the focus of her objections when they all met to discuss Taylor’s plans in the mall. From a reader perspective, it seems pretty clear that her focus on the Yeerks Peace movement was a not very subtle way for the author to hint that that was going to come up as a thing later in the book. This group isn’t referenced too often, so it makes some sense to bring them up early on. But…as far as characterization goes, it ends up playing very oddly for Cassie herself. She gets out maybe one line about the innocent humans who will die in this attack before switching the entire rest of her argument to the Yeerks Peace movement. And as a natural thought process or argument, it reads very oddly and makes Cassie seem to have strange, if even condemnable, priorities towards the “good” Yeerks over innocent human victims. Beyond making it seem like her own values are out of line, this argument is always going to be a harder sell to the rest of the Animorphs, who, while impressed by Cassie’s ability to form a connection with a Yeerk, have no personal attachments of their own. As a character who we know is a keen manipulator, a Cassie free from needing to do authorial work with foreshadowing would have known that pressing the innocent human line would have been a better route to convincing the others.
There’s also the moment in the end where Cassie saves them all by taking matters into her own hands. This is the kind of story that would have been great to read from Cassie’s perspective! She would have had some great insights into the humanity of choices like this with regards to the larger mission, but then would have to challenge her own values with the choice to attack human Controllers to save the Yeerk pool and her friends. Really, the more I write about it, the more I can just envision this as a Cassie book and wish we had it, especially given the general weakness of most of her books.
The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. Even the number of jokes he has is pretty tamped down. This kind of makes sense since Marco is definitely one of the characters with a more peripheral relationship with Tobias.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is the other Animorph to get to experience the joy that is morphing Taxxon. He manages to discover that the Taxxons have a hibernation state that allows him to gain more control over the morph, but then, in the end, he, too, succumbs to the morph and almost dies/passes the time limit when he gets stuck at the end of the tunnel. There’s also an interesting little bit where he cuts off some of Andalite!Tobias’s fur in an effort to make Tobias look less like an identical copy of Ax when they go to meet Taylor. He explains that cutting fur is a form a discipline that serves as a reminder of wrong-doing until the fur grows back out and the offense is forgotten. Just another interesting little tid-bit of Andalite society!
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Obviously all of the Taxxon stuff. Not only morphing the disgusting Taxxon body, but the entire experience. Looking at it, though, I couldn’t help but start to wonder how Taxxons even exist, biologically speaking. The hunger thing seems to strong that it would override every other natural instinct. As we saw with Ax, Taxxons will literally kill themselves through futile eating of non-nutrient rich things, like dirt. We’ve seen them cannibalize themselves at the slightest injury as well. How are they not extinct??
Couples Watch!: We get a handful of sweet, little moments for Tobias and Rachel throughout the story. For one, the first thing he does when Taylor releases him in the beginning of the book is to fly to Rachel’s. Together, they decide what to do from there. Thoughts of Rachel are also the only thing that breaks through the hunger-haze when he first morphs Taxxons. He gets caught up in the hunger and imaging eating his friends, but when he gets to Rachel, it stops him up short and gives him just enough of a break to regain control. And then, obviously, at the end we have the two of them on their private beach, holding hands and talking themselves through what could have been a huge disaster of a mission.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Taylor is the real villain of this book, even if the plan behind it all is laid at Visser Three’s feet. Taylor is a very interesting villain in her own right, as she was given quite a bit of page time and backstory in her first book. Here, we get further glimpses into her madness. However, many of these glimpses ultimately ended up just being frustrating teases. We get the brief break-through from the real Taylor at the bookstore, where she warns Tobias away (why this isn’t given more weight when they’re all considering what to do would also fit under the “Terrible Plan” segment). And Tobias himself wonders several times about the breakdown between Yeerk and girl. Before, Taylor was a willing host, having chosen this reality to restore her beauty. But clearly something has gone wrong since, and she’s fighting against her Yeerk. This is really interesting! And it goes…nowhere. We never get any answers to this and it’s the kind of frustrating add-on that I wish had just been cut out. It doesn’t add anything to the story as it is, but instead just leaves annoying questions in its wake, making it feel like there was much more story to be had here than what we are ultimately given.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As we know, Tobias books are often big on the tears. This one’s discussion of cowardice and Tobias’s fears that he’s a coward at heart is pretty rough. Not only does he feel that he somehow “failed” while be tortured, exposing his “true nature” to his torturer, Taylor, but he also worries that he’s always been a coward. And that this cowardice was part of the reason that he ended up trapped as a hawk; he was too scared to approach life as a boy any longer. Beyond the obvious horrors of his human life (like living with his terrible aunt and uncle and the constant bullying), he even worries that part of him was scared of the joy, too, like being with Rachel. In some of the previous books, we’ve seen him deal with the fact that his hawk form has allowed him to keep careful control on that relationship, both to Rachel’s frustration and to his own shame. The moments when he’s hanging out above the Yeerk Pool looking directly at the spot where he hid so long ago are pretty heart-wrenching.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are a good number of awful plans in this book, both on the part of the Animorphs and the Yeerks. For one, as I mentioned in Jake’s section, it’s hard to buy that there weren’t more objections to the general terrible nature of the plan and the high human collateral it would entail.
Beyond that, they are all very willing to go along with a plan given to them by Taylor, someone they have a terrible history with. Not only does Taylor’s host break through at one point and literally warn them away, but they have no evidence that her plan is part of a larger revolt. They never meet any co-conspirators or see any proof that she’s not just operating on her own. What’s more, part of the carrot that is given for their cooperation is some vague promise that she will get them Visser Three. But..how? The whole explanation for her mission is that she’s on the outs. How exactly is she going to get them access to someone like Visser Three? And the Animorphs never even question this!
And then from the Yeerks’ perspective, the entire plan is very high risk, questionable reward. We know that Visser Three is happy enough to off Yeerks that displease him, but loosing the entire Yeerk Pool seems a bit much, even for him. Sure, he’s wiped out the Yeerk Peace movement, but he has to report back to the Council of Thirteen that a guerrilla group managed to blow up the entire Yeerk Pool under his watch…and bizarrely took themselves out with it? Not only does it not make sense, but it doesn’t paint in him a very good picture, and as we already know that his methods have been coming under question, it’s hard to see how this would benefit him. Beyond that, through Taylor’s successful contact with the Animorphs, there were much easier ways to simply lead that group into a trap. The successful capture of the “Andalite bandits” would do a whole heck of a lot more for him than taking out some Yeerk Peace movement members while losing the entire pool. And would have been super easy to pull off, considering how “all in” the Animorphs were with Taylor’s plan. I mean, at one point they were all lying paralyzed on the floor! How easy would it have been for Visser Three to swoop in and simply gather them all up?
This book had a lot of good ruminations on a variety of topics, but I think some of the better parts had to do with fear and evil when Tobias was analyzing what makes up the heart of the Taxxon psyche and evil in general:
Yes, a fear. . . grossly exaggerated … beyond anything humans experience .. . a desperate fear of not having enough .. . a terror of starvation .. . a horror that your essential needs will go unfulfilled .. . a horror demented and contorted by the Taxxon mind until it became a sick, murderous evil.
Evil, even the worst evil, has banal origins every human can understand. Weakness. Fear. Insecurity.
Ax hooks up a janky computer set-up in the woods to contact Taylor initially, and the event ends with this utterly quotable line:
<The computer has, as you say, crashed,> Ax announced coolly.
Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15
No change! Both the Yeerks and the Animorphs had terrible instincts and plans in this book. I could easily justify taking a point away from each of them, but as that makes not overall difference, we’ll just leave things as they are.
Rating: For all that it falls apart if you really start looking at things closely (like both the Animorphs’ and the Yeerks’ reasoning for all of these events, and the biological impossibility of the Taxxons), I really enjoyed this book. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, Tobias books are always good for a deeper look into a variety of pretty tough topics. And, unlike Cassie books, usually avoid coming off as preachy or self-righteous. For that matter, as I mentioned in the Cassie section above, this book would have succeeded tackling many of these topics AS a Cassie book. But I particularly enjoyed the analysis of fear and cowardice, and Tobias tying all of these various factors together in his worries that he is a coward: his being caught as a hawk, his handling of being tortured by Taylor the first time, how he has handled the events of this entire book. Just a lot of good stuff!
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description:Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery’s never been there, but she’s heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.
The town is picture-perfect, but it’s hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone’s declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.
Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she’s in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous–and most people aren’t good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it’s safest to keep your secrets to yourself.
Review: Thank you so much to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!
I know that I probably over reference “Twin Peaks” in my blog posts, but given that for me it’s the pinnacle of storytelling it’s a standard that I can’t help but hold certain types of stories to. Basically, if you are writing a book about a small town with seedy secrets, I’m going to immediately start chanting in my head about magicians longing to see and stuff of that nature. If a book doesn’t live up to those (probably unfair) expectations, woe be unto the author and the universe they create. But when they do?
And that brings me to Karen M. McManus’s newest YA mystery thriller “Two Can Keep A Secret”. Given my enjoyment of her previous book, “One of Us Is Lying”, I was excited and nervous to read her follow up to a stellar debut. The good news is that I liked “Two Can Keep A Secret” even more than “One of Us Is Lying”!
Once again, McManus has a compelling hook and likable characters that immediately pull the reader in. While on the surface our cast seems to fill various tropes of the genre (the cynical new girl, the misunderstood outsider, the manipulative and popular bitch), McManus writes them all in such a way that they feel fresh and unique. Our main two perspectives are Ellery, a true crime obsessed teen who has just moved to her mother’s home town of Echo Park, and Malcolm, the younger brother of a former golden boy. Both have outside connections to tragedy in this small town, as Ellery’s aunt disappeared when she and Ellery’s mom were teens, and Malcolm’s brother fell from grace after his girlfriend was murdered and he was the prime suspect. While it may have been easy to follow ever explored formulas for both our main characters, Ellery and Malcolm both surprised me with their depth. They both have moments of triumph and moments that were less than flattering, but at all times they felt like realistic teens who are trying to move past painful realities and traumas. While the supporting cast didn’t have as much time to shine as these two, when they were on the page they, too, felt like real teens with lives they were navigating as best they could. I especially liked Ezra, Ellery’s twin brother, whose love and loyalty to his sister was a good way to counterbalance the ever so tempting ‘all alone new kid’ plot line. It was also a thoughtful way to show how different people can approach and process a shared pain, as the twins have to navigate moving to a new place after their mother Sadie ends up rehab.
There are multiple mysteries tied up in “Two Can Keep A Secret”, but McManus juggles them with ease so they never feel overwhelming. Echo Park is a town filled with secrets, from who killed Lacey the Homecoming Queen, to the disappearance of Sadie’s twin sister Sarah (which, understandably, has possibly contributed to her mental problems), to secret familial connections that no one wants to talk about. The various tragedies at the center of this story were where the book most reminded me of “Twin Peaks”, and I think that’s in part due to how well McManus laid out this town and those who inhabit it. While there were some answers I was able to discern on my own before their reveals, for the most part I was left guessing and theorizing up until the answer was given. I greatly enjoyed the many different mysteries, from the tragic to the sudsy. They were all satisfying from start to finish, and McManus did a superb job of making sure all of her threads were pulled together by the end of the book.
“Two Can Keep A Secret” was a fun and suspenseful mystery, and it solidifies Karen M. McManus as a talented thriller author. Readers of thrillers, no matter their age, will almost assuredly find something to like here. And if you like the less surreal aspects of “Twin Peaks”, this book could be a good fit for you as well!
Rating 9: A fabulous follow up to a great debut, “Two Can Keep A Secret” is a tantalizing mystery with fun characters and many satisfying twists and turns. Fans of thrillers should check it out.
Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, December 2018
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Review: I’ve heard the name “Diane Setterfield” tossed around here and there over the last few years. Her novels, that often combine fantastical elements and historical settings, are the type that would likely appeal to me, so she’ll pop up on lists here and there that I glance through. All that said, for some reason or another, I’ve never actually taken the time to pick up one of her books. Big mistake! Apparently, I needed someone to take the choice out of my hands, so I’m very thankful for the publisher sending me a copy and giving my butt a good kick towards this excellent book and author.
There is an inn on a river. An inn where late nights are full of stories, tellers and listeners all gathering together over their beers to share new and familiar tales. Until one night, a story unfolds at their feet with the unexpected appearance of a little girl, apparently dead until…she’s not. But who is she? Where did she come from? Everyone has their own story, their own connection to this strange young girl. But what is the truth?
The very first thing that struck me is the writing tone of this book. In my opinion, any story that is going to also focus on storytelling as its subject matter must master this element first and foremost, and Setterfield accomplishes this quickly and thoroughly. From the very first few pages, one is swept into a lyrical story that reads like the best fairytales and folklore stories. The language is simple, but beautiful, and it’s easy to imagine sitting in the very same smoky inn, drinking mulled cider, while someone recounts this story aloud. The atmosphere is set incredibly, and while it only takes a few pages for the small girl to arrive, I already felt completely immersed in this world.
As the story progressed, I enjoyed the introduction of a larger cast of characters, all with their own distinctive stories and connections to the girl. In each story, we’re given just enough to begin forming assumptions and connections ourselves, but mysteries are ever present. Half of the fun of the book was attempting to weave all of these narratives together to form a complete circle.
Further, the setting was left a bit nebulous, but in this type of story, it seemed to work. It took a while for me to settle on what time period this was taking place in, which seems like it could be a criticism. But, like the best stories, a tale should be able to simply exist, without hard dates lodging it in time. Further, as the summary alludes to, there is a running question throughout the story of the fantastical. The little girl was dead. Everyone who saw her could confirm this. But then she wasn’t. Various characters come down on different sides when attempting to prescribe an explanation for this event. And readers, too, are left questioning what exactly is going on. Is there a level of fantasy being introduced here? Or is it the type of “fantasy” that we can all see in our everyday life, now, if we really look for it?
“Once Upon a River” is a beautiful story, mysterious and ever-flowing like the river that is at its heart. Fans of Setterfield’s previous books are sure to be pleased with this more recent entry. And new readers, like me, who enjoy stories about stories and lyrical writing will also come away satisfied. It’s just the kind of cozy book that is perfect to settle down with on these cold, winter nights.
Rating 8: A story that immediately draws you in with its beautiful writing and mysterious weave of intersecting tales.
Book: “An Anonymous Girl” by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, January 2019
Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.
Book Description:Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.
When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.
Review: I want to extend a very special thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an ARC of this novel!
In my younger years I was deeply fascinated with psychology, specifically of the abnormal type. During my undergraduate program I was especially taken with the various unethical studies that were conducted in the name of ‘science’. While studies of these natures could never get past an IRB today, I think about the Milgram Experiment (where a subject thought that they were giving people violent electric shocks and were told to keep going no matter what) and The Zimbardo Prison Experiment (where students were separated into prisoner and guard roles in a faux prison setting, and horrific abuse began almost instantly), and wonder just how these things were ever thought to be okay. Because of this lingering fascination, when I saw the new book “An Anonymous Girl”, written by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen of “The Wife Between Us” fame, was about unethical psych subjects I was excited to read it. I really enjoyed “The Wife Between Us”, so my expectations were set pretty high for their newest work.
“An Anonymous Girl” has a similar narrative structure to “The Wife Between Us”, with dual narrators who have distinct voices and their own takes on unreliability. The first and more prominent of the two is Jess, a make up artist who is living a meager and somewhat unfulfilling existence. She used to have dreams of making it on Broadway as a make up artist, but has since stalled out and settled for a job that sends her to private appointments around New York City. Her past is a bit hidden at first, though you know she’s sending money to her family to help care for her younger sister, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child. Jess is a narrator whose motivations are always laid out and clear, and while she has a tendency to make questionable to poor decisions, she’s written in a way that makes you totally believe why she would make said decisions. The other narrator is Dr. Shields, and she is a bit more muddled in her motivations. The mystery of the novel is just what Dr. Shields is doing with the experiment that Jess volunteers for, and as her intent is slowly revealed her character’s layers are peeled back to show a dark mind at work, far darker than Jess’s. Both characters are interesting enough that I was invested in figuring out just what Dr. Shields wanted with Jess, and how far Jess would be pushed within the ‘experiment’ she was participating in. I kept thinking back to Milgram and how the subjects would sally forth, no matter how uncomfortable they were, because they thought that they had to.
The mystery sustained itself as long as it wanted to, laying out various hints towards both womens’ overall story arcs and their pasts. But eventually the narrative shifts from a mysterious question of intrigue to a pins and needles cat and mouse game. And it is that shift where “An Anonymous Girl” stumbled a little bit for me. Once we found out what it was that Dr. Shields was trying to accomplish, the reveal was a bit disappointing if only because it’s something we have seen many times before within this genre. I’m not going to spoil it here because I do think that getting there and the ensuing predator and prey dynamic is worth the read. But I will say that I went in hoping for a send of of unethical experiments of the past, where the likes of Milgram and Zimbardo were doing awful things in the name of science and learning about human nature. And what is very much not the case here at the end of the day.
“An Anonymous Girl” is a strong follow up to Hendricks’s and Pekkanen’s previous hit. While I do wish it had thought outside the box a little more, it was still an enjoyable thriller that serves the genre well. And I have some good news for you! I am going to give my ARC away so a lucky winner can read it for themselves! This giveaway runs through January 14 and is open to U.S. Residents only.