⇒Knowing whom you can trust is a valuable life skill – because “uncertainty is an excruciating state in which to exist.” ⇐
**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the authors for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Authors: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
(4.15 stars – Goodreads rating)
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller
Format: Kindle Version
Published January 8, 2019, by St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 375 (Hardcover)
Every lifetime contains pivot points — sometimes flukes of destiny, sometimes seemingly preordained — that shape and eventually cement one’s path.
You’ve probably heard of the philosophy of eating your dessert first. The premise behind that is that life is unpredictable, so make sure you’re enjoying as much of it as you can, while you can. And while I certainly agree with that idea, I have never really put it into practice with my dinner.
However, as a younger person, I did employ that philosophy in my reading. If I was reading a book that was particularly suspenseful or scary, I would skip to the end of the chapter or to the end of the book to make sure that my beloved characters survived whatever current crisis the author was subjecting them to. I had no qualms with “skipping ahead” in my books or even skipping entire chapters if the writing started to drag. It never came back to haunt me and I never felt like I missed out.
So why is it that, as an adult, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if I even consider not finishing a book or skipping ahead in it if it starts to become dull or disengaging? I’m not sure why I imagine the book police coming for me if I don’t force myself to slog through even the worst plots and excruciatingly banal writing styles in order to say that I, in fact, did read the whole book.
I should take advice from my younger self and erase the guilt because this was a book that I think I could have enjoyed more if I had skipped ahead.
Sometimes an impulsive decision can change the course of your life.
I was convinced that An Anonymous Girl was going to be a great book because of this line in the summary: “Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.” You know what that means to me? Secrets!!! And who doesn’t love a good mystery book involving a secret psychological study? It guarantees that somebody is going to be crazy – usually, the one hosting the study – and that some young innocent is going to find themselves in danger pretty quickly. True and true.
Here’s the Goodreads summary to get you acquainted with the story:
“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.“
Sometimes a test is so small and quiet you don’t even notice it’s a test.
So I was set up to love this book, I was all set to love it, but after I got about 40% into it, I knew that it wouldn’t be a 5-star read for me. That was disappointing for me – especially after seeing so many 5-star reviews for it. And although I never let other readers’ reviews sway my own opinions, I wonder what the 5-star raters interpreted in this book that was the exact opposite from what I experienced while reading it.
Let’s look at the good first: The book is engaging. The premise immediately draws you in, and almost from the first chapter you’re off and running with Jess, the main character, headlong into uncertainty and sketchy adventures. Readers who enjoy this book will appreciate the underlying current of danger at every turn, and the authors did a good job with that sense of impending danger.
Another good: At first the character of Dr. Lydia Shields is masterfully creepy and commanding. Readers get the sense that she is powerful and manipulative – both of which are valid assumptions made stronger by the authors’ use of dual perspectives (Jess’s and Dr. Shields’) to control the tone of the story and build it to its ultimate denouement.
Sometimes a therapist who coaxes out all of your secrets is holding the biggest one in the room.
OK, now on to the bad – or should I say instead, what could have made the book better for me. I didn’t feel connected to any of the main characters. Jess seems too gullible and moon-eyed over the specter of Dr. Shields, without sufficient evidence as to why she should be so enamored.
Plus, maybe it’s just part of my innately distrustful personality, but almost immediately my hackles were raised at how much information Jess gives away so freely within the study. Hasn’t she ever heard of holding something back?! I blame her friends because it seems like she just needs someone to talk to other than Leo, her dog.
Another that felt like it was missing was that I needed the book to be a little more layered. We were exposed only to the basic information about each character and then only given additional information that related only to the action at hand.Was Jess really isolated? Other than her family did she only have 1 or 2 other friends? Did she not socialize with any of her coworkers? Neighbors? Former classmates? We’ll never know because none of those relationships was ever explored. And the second-tier characters that are included are treated more like pawns instead of people with personalities and backstories.
A secret is only a secret if one person holds it.
But the main point that could have made this book a bit more thrilling for me is that Dr. Shields should have remained more of a mystery for a longer period of time. The authors did a great job initially of setting her up to be enigmatic and influential. However, once we “see” who she is, her mystery-quotient is diminished significantly and she just appears more desperate instead of cunning. Dr. Shields as “The Great and Powerful Oz”.
Although I do like how readers are not sure about whether or not to trust Thomas – without spoiling anything – I can say that the authors could have used his character to much better advantage, especially at the end.
Self-preservation is a powerful motivator, more reliably so than money or empathy or love.
The best parts of An Anonymous Girl are the opening and closing chapters. And although the middle is necessary for the plot and all the pertinent details, I felt best served by the first and last.
I have The Wife Between Us by these same authors as a TBR waiting on my bookshelf, but after reading An Anonymous Girl, that book can wait a while longer.
Greer & Sarah
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are the co-authors of the blockbuster New York Times bestseller, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, as well as just-released, AN ANONYMOUS GIRL.
-Bio adapted from Goodreads