About the Book
HAVE YOU EVER TOLD A WHITE LIE?
“[A] spellbinding psychological thriller… a suspenseful tale of paranoia that will keep readers riveted until the last surprise is sprung.”
–Publishers Weekly, starred review
Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday… but Sean does.
Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbour, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favourite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation.
Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.
Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, this is a thrilling must-read for fans of True Crime and Horror.
About the Author
Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the storytelling session “The Pumpkin Pie Show” and the author of rest area, nothing untoward, and The Tribe trilogy. He is the co-author, with Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, of the middle grade novel Wendell and Wild. In the world of comics, Chapman’s work includes Lazaretto, Iron Fist: Phantom Limb, and Edge of Spiderverse. He also writes for the screen, including The Boy (SXSW 2015), Henley (Sundance 2012), and Late Bloomer (Sundance 2005). You can find him at claymcleodchapman.com.
What I Thought
Growing up in the 80s myself I have very vague recollections of Satanic Panic: that there were fears of occultists, ritualised markings at crime scenes, and that people were convinced that the devil was real and doing work through his followers. I wonder if watching Eddie Murphy’s film The Golden Child had anything to do with those memories?
Whisper Down the Lane is a psychological thriller/horror that is very filmic in its writing. You can visualise this playing out and at times that makes it all the more creepy.
It is told from two perspectives. Richard in 2013 and 5 year old Sean in 1983. The voice in Sean’s chapters is at times a little old so I wonder if this is being told with a dash of hindsight too. We also have interview transcripts, newspaper clippings and letters to add further intrigue.
Whisper down the Lane is the childhood game where a phrase gets whispered down a group, passed from ear to ear, rarely coming out as it started. With echoes of the crucible witchcraft accusations and a very creepy therapist helping along Sean’s false memories the accused teacher in the 80s realises that rumours stick even when they are disproved.
With all the talk of fake news recently this also feels a little on the nose. That certain groups believe out and out lies. But here we have children spreading them, but it is made clear it is the adults who whip them up into a frenzy.
I think child abuse is a tricky topic to include in a book, and sexual abuse is alluded to amongst the satanic whisperings. In the more modern day narrative it felt a little more unsavoury to suggest that victims aren’t always being truthful, especially with the recent “me too” movements. But I can see how it is used to add fear and uncertainty in the reader.
What happened to Sean and his teacher in the 80s is then echoed in Richard’s story. The circular concept of what goes around comes around. In fact each chapter is headed either damned if you do or damned if you don’t.
Richard is presented as a very likeable jovial character at the start, someone who is settling into life with good things happening. He has married and hope to adopt his stepson. That makes what comes next put you on edge wonder what is happening, and reconsider if we should have liked him in the first place.
The denouement is satisfying and there were subtle clues given to it that a future reading may highlight more. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, and even added right at the end, leaving a sense of incompleteness to the story. It left me unsettled although I don’t think we will get more.
Just in case reading the synopsis or my review didn’t make it clear this book has trigger warnings for: Satanism, Animal Cruelty and Child Abuse.
Launch Event with Elijah Wood – you can watch the reply for $5.
Thanks to Stephen and Jamie-Lee at Black Crow PR for the gifted ARC for the purposes of an honest review.
Do check out the rest of the blog tour to see what everyone else thought.
About the Book
The year is 1998, and like any other teenager, Jess Flynn is just trying to get through her junior year without drama… but drama seems to keep finding her.
Between a new crush on her childhood best friend, and her younger sister’s worsening health, the only constant is change – and her hometown of Swickley, which feels smaller by the day.
Swickley is getting weirder by the day too. Half the population has been struck down by a mysterious flu. Conversations seem to end awkwardly when Jess enters the room. And then one day, a tiny, sleek black device – with an apple logo on it – falls out of her best friend’s backpack and lands at Jess’s feet.
But the first iPhone won’t exist for another nine years.
Suddenly Jess has more questions than answers about her own life. And as she races to uncover the truth about her family, her friendships, and her town, one thing becomes clear: we all have our own version of reality.
Black Mirror meets My So-Called Life in this fast-paced, timely novel about separating fact from fiction – and the lengths one girl will go to live on her own terms.
About the Author
Anna Carey is the author of Blackbird, Deadfall, and the Eve trilogy. She lives in Los Angeles.
What I Thought
It is quite hard to review this book without spoilers so you may not wish to read my review until you’ve read the book.
A quick summary is that this is a pacy young adult satirical thriller with a focus on real relationships.
First up let’s talk about the title. “This is not the Jess Show” sounds exactly like something a parent would say to their self obsessed teen. But what if it was the Jess Show?
The blurb describes this as “My So Called Life” meets “Black Mirror” and – spoiler – I would add in meets “The Truman Show” (the book has already been optioned for film too). I am a huge MSCL fan and a teen of the 90s so I very much got all the references, e.g. Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek etc (although oddly enough no Jared Leto fangirling appears in this book – did anyone else copy Angela in trying to drink their coffee black with 3 or 4 sugars because he did? …No…just me!).
The flu that is mentioned in the blurb is only a small part of the story so if you are sick of reading about pandemics then thankfully you don’t need to avoid this book. As a medically inclined person I googled the condition that Jess’ sister has mainly because I wanted more detail about what issues it causes. I won’t tell you what I found!
Jess’ circumstances provide a platform for a critique of social media/influencer culture, reality versus portrayed reality, and it also explores what bringing children up in the public eye is like. I think I’d have appreciated a little more subtlety in some of the character portrayals but in having more stereotypical characters the satirical message is made clearer.
I was surprised how calm and non-plussed Jess was throughout much of the book – she definitely did not take her teenage angst lessons from those 90s shows.
At its heart though there is a strong focus on true relationships and Jess and the two main characters she connects with do have you rooting for a happy ending for them all.
But if this is the Jess Show how easy is is it to turn off?
Thank you to Black Crow and Quirk for the gifted copy for the purposes of an honest review.