Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Review: "The Perfect Stranger" by Megan Miranda

Sometimes I think we put unfair pressure on authors. Let's say an author writes a book that blows you away. You eagerly anticipate their next book, sometimes you get impatient if it takes them too long to write another one, and then when you get the chance to read it, you expect this one to blow you away, too, right? (I know I'm not alone here.) But if it doesn't come close to the last book, at least in your mind, whose fault is that, yours or theirs?

I pondered this as I got ready to read Megan Miranda's The Perfect Stranger. Her last book, All the Missing Girls, was fantastic, both for the mystery itself and the unique way Miranda let the story unfold. The book even made my list of the best books I read in 2016. So needless to say, I tried very hard to ratchet back my expectations of her new book, because I didn't want to be disappointed just because I loved her last book so much.

Did she deliver? While The Perfect Stranger isn't perfect, it's a good, suspenseful read. And I think I might have liked it even more if I didn't read Miranda's last book and expect to be dazzled. If you go in knowing that, you'll hopefully enjoy it.

"I can only explain it this way: that I knew her deeply, if not thoroughly; that a four-month relationship can supersede all the boyfriends, all the friendships, that came after and lasted longer, that our friendship was born from the one time I'd stepped off track, done something unexpected that did not follow the predicted steps of my life. And for that reason, it shone brighter, and so did she."

Leah Stevens was a journalist in Boston who got a little too emotionally invested in an exposé she wrote. When she refused to reveal her source, and things related to her story unraveled, a restraining order was taken out against her and the newspaper she worked for was threatened with a lawsuit. Without a job and feeling utterly betrayed, she needed to get out of town—fast. She ran into an old friend, Emmy Grey, with whom she lived just after college.

On the run from a bad relationship, Emmy is desperate to leave Boston as well, so she involves Leah in her plan. The two head to a small town in Western Pennsylvania, where Leah gets a teaching job, and they can both keep off the grid. Leah and Emmy live on parallel schedules, and the two rarely if ever see each other for more than a few minutes, especially when Emmy starts dating someone new. But Leah keeps getting the sense that Emmy is still on her guard, that she's waiting for something to happen.

One night, a woman with a strong resemblance to Leah is assaulted and left for dead. A teacher who has shown a little too much interest in Leah is the suspect, which puts Leah a little more in the spotlight than she'd like, since her previous life has been kept a secret. But when Emmy disappears a few days later, Leah has no choice but to put herself out there and try to find out what happened to her friend.

Leah cooperates with the handsome young police officer who is assigned to the assault case, and tries to get him to help find Emmy. As the police investigate, she realizes that despite feeling tremendously close to Emmy, she never really knew her, which leads the police to suspect that Leah may be making the whole story up, that Emmy may not really exist, especially once they learn of Leah's past. But she knows the truth, and she is determined to find out just who Emmy was, and what happened to her, even if it means returning to the scene of her past transgressions, and possibly putting her own life and her own future at risk.

How well do we really know someone? How far would you go for a friend who has done a lot for you? Does one questionable action in our past doom us forever? The Perfect Stranger strives to answer all of those questions. It definitely keeps you guessing, because you aren't sure how reliable of a narrator Leah really is. The book's setting helps add to the tension, adding an almost moody feel to the whole thing.

As I mentioned earlier, there are things I didn't like about the book. There were a lot of things happening at once, and some of the storylines seemed unfinished, even unnecessary to the core of the plot. But Miranda really is an excellent writer, and knows how to slowly let details unfold so you stay hooked. So of course, what this means is, I'll eagerly await her next book, and remind myself to dial back my expectations again. (I never learn...)

NetGalley and Simon & Schuster provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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