Book: “My Sweet Girl” by Amanda Jayatissa
Publishing Info: Berkley Publishing, September 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Paloma thought her perfect life would begin once she was adopted and made it to America, but she’s about to find out that no matter how far you run, your past always catches up to you…
Ever since she was adopted from a Sri Lankan orphanage, Paloma has had the best of everything—schools, money, and parents so perfect that she fears she’ll never live up to them.
Now at thirty years old and recently cut off from her parents’ funds, she decides to sublet the second bedroom of her overpriced San Francisco apartment to Arun, who recently moved from India. Paloma has to admit, it feels good helping someone find their way in America—that is until Arun discovers Paloma’s darkest secret, one that could jeopardize her own fragile place in this country.
Before Paloma can pay Arun off, she finds him face down in a pool of blood. She flees the apartment but by the time the police arrive, there’s no body—and no evidence that Arun ever even existed in the first place. Paloma is terrified this is all somehow tangled up in the desperate actions she took to escape Sri Lanka so many years ago. Did Paloma’s secret die with Arun or is she now in greater danger than ever before?
Review: I was first made aware of “My Sweet Girl” by Amanda Jayatissa during one of the virtual conferences I attended last summer. It sounded like it had a lot of buzz, as it definitely was mentioned a couple of times and highlighted at least once. By the time I finally sat down with it, I was fresh off a weekend of a reading frenzy due to no plans whatsoever, and figured that I would probably meander through it right in time for it to be returned a couple days later on the due date. But even though my brain was residually soupy, I still plowed through “My Sweet Girl” in about one evening. Yep. It’s one of those: super addictive and highly readable.
“My Sweet Girl” is a thriller about Paloma, a woman adopted by a wealthy white couple in the U.S. from an orphanage in Sri Lanka when she was a tween. She has lived up to their expectations as best she could, though the fact she’s been harboring a dark secret the entire time has made it so she is nearly at the breaking point, with an alcohol abuse problem, high risk taking choices, and a cynical and cutting personality. Well, that and the microaggessions and racism she has had to live with ever since she moved to the U.S., being a South Asian woman trying to live up to the model minority stereotype while trying to function as a brown woman in a deeply racist society. This was the first theme I thought worked very well in this book. Usually these kinds of stories are reserved for messy white women protagonists, but not only is Paloma given the freedom to be messy, she is also incredibly easy to root for as she tries to figure out what is happening. There are also two mysteries at work here. The first is what happened to Paloma’s roommate, Arun, as after blackmailing her she found him dead in their apartment…. but before she could report it, she blacked out and his body disappeared. The second mystery is just what this ‘dark secret’ is, dating back to her days in the Christian run orphanage, where Paloma and the other orphan girls were living in grim conditions, and would see the spectre of a ghostly woman they called Mohini. I loved how both stories intersected, and I loved how Jayatissa slowly revealed what happened at that orphanage, how it relates to Paloma’s trauma and guilt, and how it relates to what is happening to her now. All of this is fantastic, and has moments of genuine terror, specifically when dealing with the potential for an angry woman ghost Paloma is now seeing everywhere.
But I once again found myself with a story that had such great promise and such great build up and action only to be knocked down a few pegs by the ending. Obviously I’m not going to spoil it here, because the ride itself makes it worth the read. But I will touch on a few broad issues I took with it. For one, it’s the kind of ending I’ve seen a few times in a narrative similar to this one (a woman with a dark secret trying to hide the darker elements of her identity, who is a complete mess and slowly unraveling OR IS THERE SOMETHING ELSE GOING ON?), which means that it didn’t feel super original to me. For another, one big twist is revealed in a way that makes the reader believe one thing is true, only to undo that in the blink of an eye or the turn of a page, therein meaning to shock the reader… even though it’s not all that shocking because it’s kind of cliche at this point. I mean, I opted NOT to review a book on here that I read that had a similar ending because I was so frustrated by the gotcha. Having said that, “My Sweet Girl” does get a review because while I didn’t like the ending, at least this story worked its ass off in a way that it felt like it had earned it, no matter how irked it made me. But it did drop my rating a bit.
Like I said, I think that “My Sweet Girl” is ultimately worth the read, because the build up to the climax was creepy as hell and very addictive. I will absolutely be checking out the next book that Jayatissa writes, because the thriller genre is in good hands with her.
Rating 7: Incredibly readable and a well crafted mystery are the high points, but the ending was a bit of a let down.