Jennifer McMahon – Don’t Breathe a Word
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
Started: 08 March 2011
Finished: 12 March 2011
Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? Stories about changelings and children being taken by fairies have interested me at least since reading The Stolen Child a few years ago, if not before.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 04 February 2011.
Don’t Breathe a Word will be published by HarperCollins in May 2011; you can get more information or pre-order it here.
Was Lisa kidnapped
by dark fairies, or something
even more nasty?
Summary: Phoebe and Sam don’t talk a lot about their pasts – Phoebe because of her dangerously unstable mother, Sam because of his sister, Lisa. Lisa disappeared the summer that she was twelve and Sam was ten, the same summer that she was obsessed with fairies. She claimed she’d found a doorway to Faerie in a ruined house in the woods behind their Vermont home, and that Teilo, the King of the Fairies, would meet her there and take her away to be his queen. When she disappeared, some people believed that she really had been abducted by fairies, but Sam has always maintained that it was a thoroughly un-supernatural kidnapping. Until now: fifteen years later, when he and his girlfriend Phoebe start receiving notes and calls with information that only Lisa could know. And then strange things start happening that make them wonder if Teilo is real after all… real and coming back to claim his end of some long-forgotten bargains.
Review: There are a lot – a lot – of fairy-related books on the market at the moment. But Don’t Breathe a Word is the first that I’ve read that takes the skeptic’s point of view, and as such, the first that I’ve read that I think would appeal more to mystery/thriller fans than fantasy buffs (although fantasy readers will certainly enjoy its take on the genre conventions, as well).
The book is told in alternating chapters from Phoebe’s point of view, and flashbacks to Lisa’s point of view during the summer before she disappears, and McMahon does an excellent job at ratcheting up the tension in both storylines to a fever pitch, and maintaining it at that level throughout the book. Everything and everyone is just a little shady, a smidge of not-quite-right, a half-degree shift away from normal, that you can’t ever figure out who to trust, or what’s really going on. I absolutely loved the fact that as I read, I couldn’t ever decide whether or not I thought there really were fairies, or if the explanation was something more mundane – both explanations seemed simultaneously completely implausible and yet the only possible explanation. It’s a hell of a balancing act, keeping the reader constantly second-guessing everything they thought they knew, and McMahon pulls it off right through the very last page.
Her prose is not the smoothest I’ve ever read, and there are places where the writing got noticeably choppy or info-dump-ish. Likewise, her characterizations were not always particularly deep or multi-layered, and sometimes the characters seemed to be keeping secrets or acting like jerks for no good reason. But even when I noticed these things, they didn’t really bother me; I was far too hooked by the story. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I think if you go in expecting either a straight-up fantasy novel or a straight-up mystery, you’re going to be disappointed. This book vacillates between the two, and if you want a book with a clear genre, that vacillation might be seen as a weakness. But if you’re looking for a book that can flirt with the conventions of both, while using that uncertainty of genre as a means of building suspense, then definitely give Don’t Breathe a Word a chance.
“People see what they want to see,” Sammy had told her earlier, when she was trying to convince Evie and him that the lights in the cellar hole had been fairies.
Maybe Sammy was right – maybe Lisa thought it was fairies because that’s just what she wanted it to be, what she’d been waiting her whole life for.
But what if it worked the other way around?
What if things happened to you – special, magic things – because you’d been preparing for them? What if by believing, you opened a door? –p. 49
Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: Hotter than hot, no air-conditioning, sweat pouring down in rivers, the Magic Fingers motel bed vibrating beneath her, Mr. Ice Cream doing his thing above.
**All quotes come from an Advance Reading Copy and may not reflect the final published text.
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