“Little girls are different from little boys: they’re made of sugar and spice and scar for life.”
HQ | 2017
Filed Under: Unreliable narrator meets Weekend at Bernie’s.
Truthfully, I only read this because I found out Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ellen are turning it into a mini-series. And I am not the kind of Buffy fangirl to ignore a Sarah Michelle project. So here we are.
I’m so sorry to my more discerning thriller friends who really didn’t like this and were hoping I’d be busting in here with a signature snotty review about how crap this book is; how it took every element of a thriller novel it could possibly fucking think of and used all of them on one character in a short 260-page sitting.
But I’m not.
Because this entertained the fuck out of me.
Maybe I’m still feeling the holiday glow that’s keeping my heart three times its normal size, like the Grinch, but this book hit me in all the right psychological thriller sweet spots. I was so enamoured that I read it over one Saturday afternoon.
I never do that, you guys! I don’t have the attention span to focus on anything for that long (well, maybe video games, but I have to be in the right mood. That being: “obsessive” and “avoiding real life”.)
I don’t know that I can write this review without spoilers, because every single aspect of the book is somehow involved in the twists & turns, but I will definitely try and give fair warning if I’m going to let something spoiler-like slip.
The narrative fluctuates between Now (Boxing Day and beyond) and Then (the week before Christmas.) I liked the shorter span between the duelling timelines. It let me know I was always getting closer to something and didn’t have to suffer through “months” of buildup. Something was always just around the corner. I think, at this point, most mystery/thriller readers have probably had just about enough of the past/present storytelling trope. But in this instance, I promise it is done right and it enhances every sizzle and pop the plot possesses.
The story revolves around Amber. In one timeline she’s a struggling TV producer with a horrid boss and suspicion that her husband is cheating on her. And in the present, she is in some kind of coma where she can hear and understand what’s happening around her, but can’t move or respond.
We’re told she’s in a coma, but that’s not really how comas work, so this was really the tip-off for me at the very beginning that something was going on besides the car accident that landed Amber in that state. And I was 100% here for that mystery.
I will say, reviewers who are annoyed by the abundance of thriller tropes have a point, just like the past/present thing. I would have found every last gimmick utterly ridiculous if the writing hadn’t also been so spot on with its prose and characters and pacing. I was so thoroughly captivated I didn’t have time to consider the abundance of ridiculousness that was happening to one person over the course of only a few days.
This story is written like the most diabolical onion you’ve ever encountered in your life. Every time you think you’ve peeled away a layer that will get you closer to the truth, it turns out that layer was a goddamn LIAR and you’re still fucking confused. And now you’re crying. Fucking onions!
To add to the confusion, chapters of diary entries from decades passed were included between the two timelines. They served a purpose to the overall story, but there was something about the addition of the diary that felt decidedly extra.
In addition to all the pieces already in play, plus the unreliable narrator and shady supporting characters, when these diary chapters started I was a little bit annoyed. I had an “omg, now what?” attitude towards them. I get the reason they exist within the larger picture, but some readers might feel like this is just one more thing they have to trudge through to get to the big reveal. I felt that a little bit. I can’t lie *rim shot drum sound.*
Though there is a lot going on in terms of plot – like a lot – I felt as though the author juggled the twist elements with precision and a clear view of where she was taking us and why. Though I could have done without Jo. She was an element that didn’t really serve a purpose to the plot other than to be another thriller trope addition. I think she was meant to up the “unreliable” factor for the narrator, but she was hardly given enough page time to be worth her space in the plot.
In the end, I feel like I’ve read a banging thriller that truly was full of twists and turns. And that’s not just a dust jacket blurb line. Shit was cray with taut characterization that was impressive considering it’s on the shorter side in page count.
I say, read this book and freefell into a story that is guaranteed to mess with your head and amp up your heartbeat.
My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.
Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?