One of my favorite books from last year was Megan Miranda’s psychological thriller All the Missing Girls, so I went into her follow-up book The Perfect Stranger with high expectations. I was not disappointed.
If you like books that screw with your mind and cause you to question everything, then this is the book for you. I always felt just off-balance while reading, never quite able to trust my footing. It was delicious.
Leah Stevens is starting her life over. She was a journalist in Boston, but one story derailed her career. She printed an insinuation that a college professor might have had something to do with a rash of student suicides without the proof to back it up–an insinuation that could get her sued for libel.
She’s fled to a small town where she’s teaching English and rents a house with a woman she briefly lived with in college. Her roommate, Emmy Grey, is a free-spirit, the type of person who throws a dart at a map to figure where she’s going next. Emmy works the night-shift at a hotel, the opposite schedule as Leah, so they often only see each other only in passing.
Then one day Emmy doesn’t come home. Leah gives her a few days, wondering if she’s with her boyfriend, but when the rent comes due (something Emmy wouldn’t miss), Leah contacts the police. She’s shocked to find out there’s no record of anyone named Emmy Grey ever existing. No one of a similar description worked at the hotel and no one can locate Emmy’s supposed boyfriend. There is no paper trail to follow; Emmy paid cash for everything. The police seem to think Leah may have made Emmy up.
It gets creepier.
There’s really three intertwining stories happening in this book: there’s the story that got Leah fired about student suicides, there’s Emmy’s disappearance, and there’s an attack on a local woman who looks suspiciously like Leah that results in a fellow teacher being arrested.
(I bet Sarah just read this part in the editing process and messaged me, “Okay, what happened?”)
(Sarah: Yup. Can confirm.)
It’s a lot of plot to manage, but Miranda does it well. I wish I could go into more detail about how the three storylines work together, but it’s really important that details are revealed in a specific order in the book. Spilling them now would ruin the story.
The common theme is that the people around Leah aren’t trustworthy, and that she’s naturally a very suspicious person. This got her burned in the past (gaslighting anyone?) but true to awesome psychological thrillers about women, that suspicious nature that was criticized earlier may be the thing that saves her and leads her to the truth.
Miranda even makes the students in Leah’s high school English class a little creepy. Her students size her up–she’s a new, young teacher–and there’s a constant power struggle that’s quietly happening that adds to the tension.
Then there’s Emmy. Emmy is the friend who feels a little wild, a little too cool. Leah acknowledges that she frequently caught Emmy in small, inconsequential lies, almost a pathological behavior that she dismissed. Normally this cool-girl, untrustworthy character gets vilified and slut shamed and then played by Angelina Jolie on the big-screen, but The Perfect Stranger doesn’t go that route, a fact I really appreciated.
The only thing missing from this book is character growth for Leah. She starts and ends the book essentially the same person. Some of this is part of the genre — the vindication of the heroine who was right all along — but that doesn’t mean she has to be a completely static character.
If you want a book that will lead to Bad Decisions Book Club moments and keep you up all night with suspense and female-awesomeness, then The Perfect Stranger is the book for you.
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The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
April 11, 2017
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