I do love a pleasant surprise, and this book by Jennifer McMahon was one. I never would have even picked it up had it not been given away at the Harper Collins blogger party at BEA. Something about the cover and the title just screams Lifetime movie of the week to me. But when I brought it home and started looking at it, my curiosity was piqued. The inside pages are beautifully designed, with silhouettes of trees and what looks like handwritten excerpts from something called The Book of Fairies. And the premise is something less straightforward than I suspected from a glance at the cover. I was still a little skeptical, but having been a little under the weather this week, I wanted a plot-heavy easy read, and this looked like it would do the trick. It did, but it was also much more absorbing and clever than I expected.
The story begins 15 years ago, when a 12-year-old girl named Lisa runs off into the woods to meet the Fairy King. She’s never seen again. In the present day, a woman named Phoebe, who is haunted by dreams of a shadow man, is in a relationship with Sam, Lisa’s brother. Phoebe remembers Lisa’s disappearance and has always been curious about it, but Sam doesn’t like to talk about it. However, a phone call from a woman claiming to be Lisa and the sudden reappearance of Lisa’s old Book of Fairies force Sam and Phoebe to look back and figure out what really happened all those years ago.
The novel alternates between Phoebe’s present-day story and the last few days before Lisa’s disappearance. Every revelation raises new questions, and the possibility that fairies are actually involved is always there. (This is where the cover is doing the book no favors. Nothing about it says fairy to me.) The ambiguity is utterly delicious, and McMahon never quite tips her hand. Just when I was convinced in one direction, something happened that would change my mind. Even right up to the end, there’s no clear answer. Perfect!
As much as I enjoyed this, I did find a few moments that strained credulity. Characters in disguises that are entirely believable, even up close, but then easily discarded, for example. And I sometimes thought McMahon was working too hard at her characterization, as with the constant reminders that Phoebe loves junk food and Sam eats organic. It’s a nice touch, but I’m not sure it’s important enough to be brought up so often. And the final revelations came a little too quickly for me to have time to absorb them (or perhaps I was just reading at a breakneck speed because I had to know the answers!)
But despite those quibbles, I had fun with this book. It’s wonderfully spooky and gets at our visceral fears of the creatures under the bed or the movement we think we see out of the corner of our eye.