Book: “This Might Hurt” by Stephanie Wrobel
Publishing Info: Berkley Books, February 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Welcome to Wisewood. We’ll keep your secrets if you keep ours.
Natalie Collins hasn’t heard from her sister in more than half a year.
The last time they spoke, Kit was slogging from mundane workdays to obligatory happy hours to crying in the shower about their dead mother. She told Natalie she was sure there was something more out there. And then she found Wisewood.
On a private island off the coast of Maine, Wisewood’s guests commit to six-month stays. During this time, they’re prohibited from contact with the rest of the world–no Internet, no phones, no exceptions. But the rules are for a good reason: to keep guests focused on achieving true fearlessness so they can become their Maximized Selves. Natalie thinks it’s a bad idea, but Kit has had enough of her sister’s cynicism and voluntarily disappears off the grid.
Six months later Natalie receives a menacing e-mail from a Wisewood account threatening to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from Kit. Panicked, Natalie hurries north to come clean to her sister and bring her home. But she’s about to learn that Wisewood won’t let either of them go without a fight.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
Given that Stephanie Wrobel’s first book “Darling Rose Gold” took inspiration from a notorious true crime case, it’s probably not too shocking that her second book “This Might Hurt” took inspiration from another one. I, for one, am a-okay with such things, as I really enjoyed “Darling Rose Gold” because of the twisty dramatization that Wrobel created from the real life event. When I read the description of “This Might Hurt” I immediately thought ‘oh this is NXIVM’. I mean, an isolated self help community in the Northeast, and family members wondering what is going on with their loved ones? NXIVM was all over the pop culture consciousness these past couple of years, so I wasn’t surprised and was definitely interested.
I liked the narrative structure of this book. It has some of what you would expect, and then an aspect that I wasn’t expecting but ended up liking the best of the three perspectives. But in terms of the more obvious choices, we have both Natalie and Kit providing us with first person perspective chapters, separated into sections. Natalie is rooted firmly in the present, so we get to see Wisewood in the moment and how unnerving and creepy it is as a self help island disguising a cult. For Kit we get some past perspectives, seeing what made her decide to seek out Wisewood in the first place, and how she has adjusted to living there (as well as how she has ascended up the ranks to become a pet of the leader, ‘Teacher’). They eventually come together to play out the story, and it meshes well, even if the way that it all parses out isn’t super surprising or unique.
It does, however, build at a pace that slowly raises the tension and suspense, as Natalie looks for Kit on this isolated island where people are seemingly trying to keep her at arm’s length. Throw in the fact that Natalie has her own secrets and you have double the mystery going on, though that, too, isn’t terribly shocking once we get to it. I think that part of the problem is that neither Natalie nor Kit are interesting enough as characters to me, so I wasn’t super invested in their outcomes. Sure, in the moment the malevolence of Wisewood is definitely unsettling, and the tension in that regard is well done. But since I didn’t really care about Natalie OR Kit, it never felt super high stakes to me.
But it was the third unexpected component that I liked the most and lifted this story up beyond a run of the mill thriller. These were perspective chapters from a mysterious third person, whose childhood with an abusive father and passive mother and older sister sets her onto a path dealing with magic tricks, self control, and eventual thirst for power and dominance. It becomes pretty clear that we are, indeed, seeing the story of Rebecca, the leader of Wisewood, and it was her moments that I was most looking forward to, as she felt like the most complicated character in the book. Certainly more complicated than Natalie and Kit, whose archetypes we have seen in this kind of book many a time. With Rebecca, while we do see characters like her from time to time, the way that Wrobel lets us see the slow and full transformation is the most chilling aspect of this book, and the one that worked the best for me as I read it.
“This Might Hurt” is a solid thriller. Some beats are familiar, while others are surprising, and it is certainly very, very addictive, and fairly disturbing when all is said and done. Wrobel knows how to make a setting feel dangerous, and seeing how a spider catches flies in her web was the biggest success of this book.
Rating 7: “This Might Hurt” is an entertaining book about cults and the relationship between sisters, though it’s the examination of a cult leader’s transformation that is the most interesting part.
“This Might Hurt” is included on the Goodreads list “The Most Anticipated Mysteries and Thrillers of 2022”.