Don’t Breathe a Word by: Jennifer McMahon

[credit: Goodreads]

[credit: Goodreads]

Firstly, I apologize for missing my scheduled post yesterday, I was attacked by the migraine monster. Were I to look at the screen and try and type my head would have exploded and with my eyes shooting out of my head in pain. So, onto the slightly late post!

Quick Summary: Twelve year old imaginative Lisa went missing in the woods that lie beyond her home. The last thing she said to anyone before vanishing was her younger brother Sam whom she told that there was a magickal door that lead to the land of Faeries in those woods. There she would meet the Faerie King. 

Fifteen years have passed since little Lisa disappeared, Phoebe is traveling with her sensible, reliable boyfriend Sam, run into strange and frightening events that make Sam and Phoebe question the world around them and the events related to Lisa going missing that day.

This novel was highly recommended by reading lists and people alike. A mix of mystery, faery lore, and the age old ‘is the fantasy all real or is something else going on?’ bit which I am drawn to. So I went in with high expectations. Sadly this is another book that I really liked until maybe halfway or a little after when the things that made it fun and interesting became annoying and confusing. Not to mention the ending, but we will get to that later. Forewarning, I try to write without spoilers, but there is one particular section that irked enough that I am going to write about it specifically. Don’t worry though, I’ll make sure to make it clear so not to ruin it for those who wish to read the book. 

So the book bounces back from present day with Sam and Phoebe to back when Lisa was alive and twelve. Through these time bounces we learn about her, her family, the history of the woods, and much more. In the present POV we learn more about Phoebe’s past and family as well as her take on what is going on. I’m going to write a bit about the main players here in the story, since there are a lot of secondary characters I shall leave them for you to read about in the book.

Lisa is an imaginative, adventurous, fun loving girl who lives in a small town with her family. Her father has been in the hospital and had medical problems, which makes it difficult for Lisa to cope with since they were so close before his incident. She uses her imagination to entertain her close cousin, to come up with games for her brother and friends, and to keep herself from feeling too many sad emotions through what she is going through with her family. Like many young people she wishes with her whole heart to go somewhere else magickal and wonderful. In this case Faerie Land. I found Lisa to be the best written character, showing ranges of emotions and actions fitting for a twelve year old and many times making me feel sympathetic towards her. 

Sam in the past comes off as precocious who doesn’t wholly believe in magick or fantasy but feels safer in the world of facts. He still gets pulled into his older sisters stories and goes with her many times on her little quests to meet the Fairy King, telling her all the way it isn’t real. You get the feeling he believes this, except way deep down there is a part of him that wonders if it could be true. Future Sam is still much in the same way, hard facts, reliability, etc. Though due to survivors guilt he isn’t as open and jovial as young Sam was. I liked young Sam better because his personality and actions seemed to fit well. Future Sam sometimes comes off as a sudden huge jerk or changes his personality during certain situations which I found a little distracting.

Evie is the cousin of Sam and Lisa, about the same age as Lisa she is opposite in many ways. She loves to hear the stories Lisa tells and often seems to admire her cousin if not almost idolize her in some ways. Evie has a troubled childhood with an unknown father and an alcoholic mother, her personality is brash and aggressive at times because she is often made fun of by the local kids. It seems she only hangs out with her cousins and no one else in town (with the exception of her Aunt and Uncle too). She wants to believe in Faeries too, but worries for Lisa if she actually leaves for the Faery Realm. Fiercely protective, she insists on accompanying Lisa on her ventures into the woods. Adult Evie is the probably the most interesting adult version of the kids. She as agoraphobia, still feels guilt about Lisa’s vanishing, and genuinely shows her emotions when dealing with Phoebe and Sam. As a child and adult she choosing extreme options or opposites in certain situations.

Phoebe is someone we see primarily as an adult, with a few exceptions of her early twenties  and some flashback thoughts of her childhood. She also came from a troubled family with a mother who saw things that weren’t there and said strange tales about shadow people. Phoebe herself suffered from a delusional anxiety about trapdoors under her bed and shadows crawling out from them. Yet even as an adult she can’t quite shake that maybe they weren’t delusions after all. Her personality is different from Sams, she is more impulsive, her reasoning can be swayed by belief, and she tends to question things more. She is older then Sam but often her emotions, thoughts, and actions are similar to a teenager who sulks and pouts, or childlike in her fears and doubts. It comes off as that her fears growing up about the shadow figure never left her and somehow stunted her emotional maturity growth. She is my least favorite character because her childlike thinking distracts from the story and her positive personality aspects. It may help her believe in Faery stories more or sympathize with Evie, but it also makes her appear a bit dumb or unreliable at points.

Whew! Okay, now that that is out of the way, going a little deeper. Throughout the story the reader is tossed back and forth not only in time but also in belief. Is the Fairy King real or just in the imaginations of kids? Is there a magickal dark force or is it maybe just a sinister person? This kind of thing keeps the reader guessing, causing them to think about the possibilities just as the characters in the books are. I really like this sort of thing, that fine line between reality and fantasy, and never leaning too much into one side or the other. It helps keep an air of mystery and suspense as the story goes on and events unfold. 

Through the first 3/4’s of the book it is a nice pace with surprises, strange characters, and events that are hard to pin down as fact or fiction. Sam and Phoebe’s relationship is tested as the two open up more about each others past, their reactions to situation, etc, which makes sense when a couple is put in a highly stressful situation. There is someone pulling strings behind the curtains, but is it man or myth-one that can be dealt with while the other seems overly powerful.

It was enjoyable learning about the little town Reliance which used to live in the possibly haunted woods, about the lore of the Faery King, about the sweet innocence of a child’s imagination. There are very much so darker tones in this story, some things enjoyable so while others may make you feel uncomfortable. I have mixed feelings about some of these stronger tones, but I won’t give anything away here. I do feel that as a reader there should have been a little more warning because they were pretty shocking, but perhaps I am being too sensitive, I just felt like a little warning to those who wish to read it, because I did not see it coming. 

So we go through ups and downs, trying to see if it is magick or not, learning dark secrets and complicated relationships, and then the last quarter of the book comes in. The pace shifts into a faster one, which makes sense because you really hit the final climaxes here in the book. Here some answers are finally given, though where one is received about three more questions pop up. One theme in this book is twists in the plot, which I am all for when used correctly, yet in the end here there are so many twists I’m surprised a tornado didn’t jump out of the pages. It came off as the author trying to be too clever or too mysterious, though in the end it made things a bit of a confusing and frustrating mess. Giving multiple options for what really happened in the story is fine, yet there are so many ‘but wait there’s more!’ that it gets overwhelming and completely derails from the rest of the story. There doesn’t need to be a definitive answer, too many possible answers with too many still lingering questions made me feel like the ending was stolen from me and not really given at all. That’s just me though, some people really like vastly open ended books like this. 

So, this is where I give a bit of a SPOILER to show some of the finer points I had an issue with. If you like to skip this part, just look for the ‘end spoiler’ bolded text below.

Alright down to brass tax of this spoiler section. So we find out Telio is really Sam and Lisa’s family member of incestuous beginnings. He has kidnapped not only Lisa, but at least two other girls (if not more) to impregnate them in what I think is for a son. They kept having girls and it is eluded that some of their bodies are buried in the yard. The hidden room was found, etc, etc. Though some of the characters are still pushing that their disturbed relative was conceived by the real Fairy King, who is the real Teilo. I’m guessing this is to keep the theme of man vs myth going till the end. What irks me is that there is a large amount of evidence that none of this is myth or at least the kidnappings, hidden room, etc. So how in the world did all of that change, go missing, etc in the short amount of time Sam and Phoebe got the police? Are we to believe it was the magick of the real Telio? Not a whole lot was eluded to that at all. In reality (I know it is just a story but bear with me) I wouldn’t have left the house at all. I would have made everyone sit in the living room and called the police, fear be damned. Yet if this were to happen then the author would have been forced to pick a side. Either the police would have found it all or it all would have vanished. Secondly, Phoebe is still grappling with her shadow man issue, with one of the oldies but goodies of ‘is it real only if you believe it is real’ much like the movie The Skeleton Key. So Sam and Phoebe have to go into hiding because of his family and the maybe real Telio. Again, if all this happened, and they were so concerned, why did Sam leave the delivery room? Is it to make us wonder if he is in on the possible baby swap? That would be pretty out of character after everything that’s happened. Also, is it all in Phoebe’s head with her paranoia of her own shadow man whom she still can’t decide if they are real or not? The fake nurse-seriously it is hard to get in the pediatric ward as a fake nurse, they make it so you can’t steal babies (again magick or in her head I guess)? So many questions, and none of it feels like it flows right. Why the strange ending with yet more plot twists? It seemed like overkill and overloaded with the already twist filled last quarter of the book. It just left me feeling frustrated and as if I wasted all that curiosity building during the rest of the book. 

Also, as a side note, the sudden reveal of the multiple child raping that went on was really shocking and I felt so unneeded. Was it really crucial to the story that this happened, it could not have gone another way? It if was needed for the book, then I feel like some sort of more obvious hinting should have been given. This type of stuff doesn’t typically bother me in fiction, but it was not at all what I would have expected to be in this book. It makes me wonder if it was just for the shock factor? For me, it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth because it was so vastly different then the rest of the tone, mood, theme of the book. 

End Spoiler.

I will say this though in a finishing statement. As much issue as I had with the last bit of the book, I couldn’t put it down. I really enjoyed reading it, it kept pulling me along, all the way through the muddled end. I can’t even exactly explain why, but there was something there that did keep me interested enough to keep on reading. There are some really good parts that were creepy or made me uncomfortable, that made me think. It took turns that really shocked me because I totally did not pick up on the fact that they would be there. Pick it up and give it a go, just don’t expect too much from the ending from the opinion of this reviewer. So it wasn’t all bad, it just wasn’t all good either. A lot of people either seem to totally love it 5 star rating, or they fall where I landed with a lower score. Love it or ‘eh it was okay’ seem to be the two sides. 

Rating: 2.5-3/5

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One thought on “Don’t Breathe a Word by: Jennifer McMahon

  1. Pingback: Book Reviews | 8-14-2014 | JimsBox.com

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