“Don’t Breathe A Word” by Jennifer McMahon

There are a few reasons why I picked up this book, and all of them are traditionally bad reasons to pick up a book. I’ll be honest about that, but I’ll also admit that the traditionally bad reasons to pick up a book usually work for me, and this book was no exception.

First, my favorite bookstore Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont is not only a stone’s throw away from me, but also has this obnoxious (I use that term endearingly) display of books dead center of the fiction department. This display is only obnoxious to one like myself who has a habit of walking into a bookstore empty handed and walking out with an empty bank account, because the first display one sees is not sale books. I’ve learned to sideswipe this over the years and get to the sale books, but one drastically reduces their odds of doing that when they walk into their favorite bookstore at least once a week. On the day that I purchased McMahon’s latest novel, it was this dead-center display that caught me and particularly her book cover (reason number two you’re not supposed to grab a book that I disobeyed). The book cover is just a young girl’s face. That’s it, but it for whatever reason it stopped me and I investigated further. The third reason one should not typically buy a book that I ignored altogether was the fact that it is a genre of book that I don’t generally enjoy; a sort of murder-mystery-fantasy that would normally keep me up scared and wishing I hadn’t read it to begin with. (#1: blatant marketing, check #2: the cover, check #3: lack of interest, check)

However, I was sold once I read that Jennifer McMahon was from Vermont and the book was set in my home state, and I tucked it under my arm as I shuffled off to rifle through the books on sale. This book proved to be an example of why disregarding all the warning signs of a potentially bad purchase can work out brilliantly, because I loved it.

Generally speaking, I try and fit personal reading in whenever I can, but that is not always often. Between school, work, and writing, life doesn’t always allow me the time to do so. However, this book did not allow me the time to do anything else really… but read it.

I did not want to put the book down. I would be lying in bed with my eyes heavy, unable to stay awake, but unable to shut the light out and put the book on my nightstand. McMahon has a natural knack for building suspense apparently. I needed to know what happened, and to be honest this need hasn’t happened with a book and me for a long, long time. (That is not to say I haven’t read good books, I just have control in regards to reading time being over usually.)

The book is centered around a couple, Phoebe (I hate that name) and Sam, and Sam’s missing little sister, Lisa. Phoebe and Sam are that typical balance-each-other-out kind of couple; she being an unorganized, fantasy believing chick who loves Hamburger Helper and he being an organized, very logical vegan who only eats organic veggies. The dynamics between the two of them were meh, but easy to overlook because that is not what the book is centered around. The book centers around the disappearance of Sam’s younger sister fifteen years prior, a disappearance that seems to be rooted in fantasy- and I hate to even say it- fairies.

I think this is a good time to announce to the world– I’m actually prejudice against fairies. It’s true. I think they are most wasteful creation of fantasy ever. I hate pictures of fairies. I hate movies with fairies. I especially hate tattoos of fairies. I do not like stories with fairies. (That’s right. Peter Pan sucked for me because of Tinkerbell.) I simply hold no well feelings for fairies anywhere in my body, and although I am unsure where this prejudice came from- considering I have never met a fairy- it’s a fact of my personality.

That being said, it is odd that I would enjoy a book that seemed to revolve around them. Even as I read the back of the book, I turned my nose up a bit when I read the word ‘fairies’ and yet, I bought it anyway. However, it becomes clear that these are not the typical portrayal of such a mystical creature. In fact, they’re creepy and ugly and weird and dangerous, and according to this book there is a whole world of them tucked away in the woods of Vermont… and it leads you to believe that they are the reason Lisa is missing.

The twists and turns and unexplainable events are what make this book a page-turner, and not just about fairies and forests, the book becomes alive with family secrets. As it flip-flops between the present day story and the story from fifteen years ago, you begin to realize that even the Brady Bunch could hold a wealth of special victims’ unit secrets beneath their cookie-cutter aprons and white picket fences, and although a tried-and-true theme of many a book, it works here. Lisa’s strange disappearance becomes shrouded in not just fantasy, but straight-up whodunit mystery. Right when you think you’ve figured out everything is supernatural, it flips you to realizing that nope, everything has a logical explanation, and then oh wait, fucking fairies.

Reading this book was outside of my own box in many ways, but the writing is good, clean, and flows naturally, and McMahon draws you in all the way ’til the end simply because you want to know what happens. There is no doubt I’ll actively seek out another by her at some point in my reading career, regardless of the fact that I do not typically enjoy supernatural thrillers, most particularly stories about fairies. Was it a masterpiece? No, but it kept me up way past my bedtime, and I sincerely enjoyed it.

Seriously though, don’t get a tattoo of a fairy. Just don’t.

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3 Responses to “Don’t Breathe A Word” by Jennifer McMahon

  1. You do a terrific job keeping people tuned to what your writing about. I can’t wait to see what you do on the other side of a book.

  2. Ava says:

    I read this about 6 or 7 months ago and absolutely loved it. I read it in 24 hours and that’s conuting bathroom and food breaks. I didn’t go to sleep until I finished reading it, I was hooked from the the first page. My spouse thought I was insane for not getting any rest while reading this book, but it wasn’t the first time and it probably will not be the last.If you are interested another good book is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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