My Review of "The Girl Who Stayed" by Tanya Anne Crosby
I felt slight trepidation before beginning this book as it is another thriller with "Girl" in the title which immediately- and I'm sure deliberately - creates a certain expectation about style, content and genre. However after reading the opening line where it says that Zoe, the main character, sometimes gets a feeling as though something were about to happen and it had come again, "clinging to this day like cold sweat," I was hooked. What a great use simile to evoke fear, uncertainty and suspense! It continues to build tension with the description of her finding her sister's bike lying in the sand in "twisted death throes " like it needed its "body outlined in white chalk except they didn't do that for bikes." Intriguing!
The reader is thrown straight into the action and confronted with a character and a family trying to deal with the impact of losing a sibling when children. Zoe was ten when Hannah, then eight, disappeared. Her younger brother Nicky was only six. After Hannah's disappearance - which has never been solved nor any body ever found - the family "unraveled like a tapestry." The story flits between modern day where Zoe has eventually returned to the family house on the Sullivan's Island following the death of her parents. She needs to sort out the home in order to sell it after it's been rented out for years. Neither Zoe or Nick wanted to live there following the devastating sadness and bad memories of their childhood. The house is beautifully described and it is used by Crosby to imply heartache, trouble, hurt and anger. It incites suspicion, mystery and drama. To complicate things, Zoe has also run away from an unhappy relationship and her fear of being discovered and the clues about the type of relationship it was exaggerate the sense of grief and pain which will permeate this tale. She also has a rather broken relationship with her brother who is now her only living relative. Zoe finds these bad feelings "cling to her nerves like the yellow film on the curtains."
The second thread of the narrative takes us back to 1986, the year of Hannah's disappearance where we see events from ten year old Zoe's point of view. Zoe was blamed for Hannah's disappearance and held responsible for it. The whole town blamed her and most devastatingly, her own father blamed her and subjected her to much cruelty as a result of his inability to deal with the loss of his second daughter. Thirty years after the event, Zoe remains deeply traumatised by the whole experience, unable to move on and deeply buried beneath the burden of this accusation. The lack of closure and explanations are "like splinters buried in her skin festering every day of her life" and she needed to "root out the septic truths that were poisoning her day by day." Zoe is an unhappy person, in an unhappy relationship with an unhappy past. Worse still, she has no memory of what actually happened during Hannah's disappearance.
Zoe's tormented character isn't easily likeable. She's prickly, bitter, reclusive and difficult. She is disturbed. She is jealous. She is hurt. She is uneasy, overly obsessed with Hannah's disappearance -in fact she's haunted by her, puzzled by her feelings towards her. Did she love her or did she hate her? Zoe has no sense of self worth and she loathes herself. As one of the other character's observes, "Ain't nothing worse than an unloved child." But as the story from 1986 develops and the reader learns more about the family it is easy to understand why she is this way and it does encourage empathy and sympathy towards her.
She is a trapped women. Trapped by the past, trapped by the town's gossip and also trapped by her boyfriend. There is a foreboding sense of violence created from the shadowy threat of her boyfriend Chris, which is then heightened by the malevolent presence of Hannah's ghost.
There is also a question of Zoe's reliability as a narrator which adds depth to the plot and is such an effective way of complicating the reader's ability to figure out the mystery and the truth about what actually happened. Zoe is so confused and troubled that it is difficult to believe that any of her memories, recounts of events or observations about people, are accurate.
The ending was brilliant. The dramatic tension soared in the last section, building to a completely unguessable and unforeseen twist which grips the reader and completely holds your attention until the very very last page.
This story does deserve to be compared with the contemporary psychological thrillers currently in the best seller list and will certainly join them there. It is a good "grip lit" read. Crosby successfully examines how childhood trauma affects decisions we make as an adult through one person's emotional journey of discovery, acceptance and desperate attempts to move on.
Thank you very much to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this novel and the opportunity to read it before publication in return for a fair and honest review.
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