I’ve written plenty of book reviews, especially in recent years, and quite a few for suspense novels. It’s a genre I enjoy reading from time to time because it’s far removed from my “home” genre of historical fiction. It’s often a masterclass in taut pacing from which I can learn a lot, and it’s great for examining the fringes of the human psyche.
Girls of Brackenhill (Thomas & Mercer) by Kate Moretti is no exception to this, but this is one of the more challenging reviews I’ve had to write. I find that the intricacies of this plot are best enjoyed “in the heat of the moment” when reading, instead of via synopsis, so if you want my advice now — go grab your copy and enjoy it with your favorite fall blanket and a cup of mulled cider. You won’t be disappointed …
But here’s my take for those who want details upfront:
Perfect for the Halloween season, Girls of Brackenhill is a haunting story set in a decrepit castle in Pennsylvania. Our narrator, Hannah, and her sister Julia spend five of their childhood summers there in the care of their devoted aunt and uncle. It’s a magical refuge from their unhappy lives with their overburdened mother and drunken, abusive stepfather. The last summer they spend there is different. Julia grows distant from Hannah and more and more disenchanted with their summers at Brackenhill.
Hannah is distraught over the growing estrangement from her sister who has been more like a mother figure. She is also loath to leave behind the summertime haven that they’ve found with their loving aunt and uncle. She finds solace in her budding romance with the local lifeguard, Wyatt, who is the only one who treats her like a young adult. When Julia ends up missing, it sets tongues in town wagging as to where the girl may have gone. What’s more, she isn’t the first girl connected to Brackenhill to go missing. Weeks and months pass with no sign of Julia.
In the time between her sister’s disappearance and the modern day, Hannah rebuilds her life. She establishes herself in a career and finds a solid, reliable partner in Huck, a corporate man turned landscape artist. Though she’s created a life for herself that is far healthier than the one she knew as a child, Hannah spends her entire adult life wondering what happened to her sister, and it’s clear she’s never really healed from the loss.
When Hannah’s Aunt Fae dies in a car accident more than fifteen years after Julia’s disappearance, Hannah is forced to return to Brackenhill and confront the myriad demons of her past. The narrative is split between modern day (2019) and Hannah and Julia’s final summers at Brackenhill as teens in the early 2000s. Despite the time shifts, the reader is able to stay immersed in the story without feeling that it’s disjointed.
Girls of Brackenhill is everything a suspense novel should be. Rife with complex relationships, difficult and messy emotions, a chilling setting, and a heart-pounding conclusion, this one should be on top of every suspense reader’s TBR pile. This is a highly recommended read best enjoyed in the dark!