With “An Anonymous Girl,” Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen have created a novel that entices the reader into the dual narrative to a point when the reader can’t stop reading to find out how it all ends. Which of the women narrating their story will come out on top?
Will Jessica, known as Jess to her friends, be able to figure out what a mess she’s gotten herself into? She’s a makeup artist struggling to survive in New York City while helping her parents pay for therapy for her younger sister, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury resulting from an accident for which Jess blames herself. In her desire to make extra money, she substitutes for a participant in a psychological study when the original participant decides not to show up. Ironically, it’s a study on ethics and morality, and Jessica lies her way into it. But it ends up being much more than Jess bargained for. Jess tells her story in first person narration, and her narrative is bright and engaging.
Dr. Lydia Shields, on the other hand, narrates the story in second person, as if she is talking directly to Jessica, who is called Subject 52 in her study. At first, reading what is happening in this type of narrative is unsettling, but it quickly becomes comfortable as the narrative includes more and more of what Dr. Shields is thinking and doing. She is obsessed with determining if her husband has cheated on her. Morality and honesty mean everything to Dr. Shields, a well-known psychiatrist and author.
In many ways, Jessica and Dr. Shields are opposites. Jessica’s family lives a modest life, and when her father loses his job selling life insurance, they worry about how they will stay in their home. Dr. Shields’ family has great wealth, and she has never known financial struggles. Physically they are also opposites. Jessica has curly dark brown hair and she dresses boldly. She deals with her anxiety by having one-night stands. Dr. Shields is patrician in her tall, slender, expensively clothed figure and in her cool, almost emotionless, demeanor.
When Jessica discovers that the study is really just Dr. Shields using her for personal reasons, she has to figure out how to beat Shields at what has become a twisted game of chess. How can she learn about a former test subject, Subject 5, without Shields’ finding out? Especially when Shields seems to be all-knowing. Shields wields the power, but Jessica feels that her life may be at stake, and she’s determined to protect herself.
The twists and turns keep coming as the narratives grow more intense and the behaviors more harrowing. It’s a book that is difficult to put down and intensely enjoyable to read.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s edition provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for review purposes.