THE BOTTOM LINE: A clever psychic thriller steeped in 80s nostalgia that will delight Stranger Things fans and anyone looking for a great read.
The story begins in a humid Minnesota summer in 1986. Twelve-year-old Jackie Tanner is a latch-key kid doing her best to get by with a mom who works at the local strip club and often disappears for days and an older teenage sister who is too preoccupied with her own life to worry about protecting anyone else’s. Her sunshine arrives in the form of new kid in town, J.R.. J.R.’s father, a police detective with a nasty streak, is tasked with solving the murders and disappearance of several young girls, including — to Jackie’s utter horror — a friend of hers.
Flash forward to 2018 and Sterling Pruitt, the daughter of a famous actress, decides to move from L.A. to take a job in a small town in Minnesota. But soon after moving, recurring dreams from childhood of a strawberry-haired young girl become more vivid and frequent than ever. Enter Theo: the handsome, curmudgeonly and mysterious carpenter she hires to help her fix up her home. As their connection grows so, too, do her dreams of this mystery girl. Soon it becomes clear that those dreams are somehow connected to the crimes of 1986, and the pair’s past and future become inextricably linked as they get closer to discovering the truth behind the city’s haunting past.
Avery, with over 40 books to her credit (including The Dead Girl’s Stilettos and Woman Over the Edge) draws her characters with an ease and familiarity that sucks you into their vortex from the get-go and holds you in its grip until the very last page.
Fans of Stand by Me and Stranger Things (which Avery namechecks in the novel) will feel instant familiarity in Jackie Tanner’s world with the archetype of the free-range ‘80s kid roaming malls, arcades, abandoned fields and river banks. She also clearly had a blast steeping the reader deep in ‘80s nostalgia — with references to everything from Q*bert and Jolt to Trapper Keepers, jelly shoes, scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers, Atari and even Nancy Reagan’s much maligned “Just Say No” drug campaign.
But nostalgia and familiarity aside, Avery’s characters are anything but caricatures. And that becomes abundantly clear in not only Jackie’s moving relationship with J.R. but that of Sterling and Theo. Both women are in search of love, an escape from their reality and someone who sees them for who they truly are. But there’s a cost. And the parallels of each pair’s relationship weave together beautifully for a story that is both heartbreaking and heartfelt — and will leave you glad that you ignored your own life for a while to step into theirs.