“All things return with time. But you have to go looking for them. You have to be ready for them. You’ve got to be willing to take the risk over and over again.” – Megan Miranda, The Perfect Stranger
This marks the second Megan Miranda novel that I’ve read. The first was the widely popular All the Missing Girls which you can read my review for here. This second book has a stunning cover page that matches the style of Miranda’s previous novel but The Perfect Stranger is not a sequel to All the Missing Girls. You can read this one without having read the other. Let’s lay this book out on the chopping block.
Leah Stevens is forced to leave her old life behind when she loses her big city job. Having once been a reporter at the top of her career, Leah finds herself wrapped up in a scandal that forever leaves an imprint on her reputation. Enter Emmy Grey, Leah’s saving grace. A girl that she’d connected with long ago reappears in her life, and this time, she’s looking to get out of the city. The pair starts a new life together in a small Pennsylvania town where they hope to leave the past in the past.
When Emmy goes missing, Leah’s new life comes to a standstill. What’s more, it begins to look like Emmy never existed at all. The police are unable to find any information about her past. Leah takes it upon herself to track her roommate down, but the small town starts to show its claws. People she thought she could trust change their stripes, two attacks happen near her home, and every moment without Emmy makes her realize how little she knew her. Leah’s situation is made all the worse because of her scandalous past, and she struggles to find the truth while keeping hers under wraps.
If you have read All the Missing Girls, you may have noticed a few parallels between it and this novel. Big city girl moves to small town, a girl that went missing, etc. It almost felt like Leah and Nic (the protagonist from All the Missing Girls) shared quite a few personality traits. Both are inquisitive beyond belief and both are very self-reflective, in that they pretty much analyze all of their own actions. This novel is written in first-person limited tense, so we’re stuck inside Leah’s head for the duration of the story. This does work, because it allows for suspense to be carried from scene to scene, and we discover secrets as Leah does. However, as with any first-person novel, being trapped in the mind of one character can kind of grate on your nerves. At least, it did for me. Leah turned into a repetitive, rambling character towards the end. It felt like I was reading Megan Miranda’s thought process because Leah would constantly repeat things that we already knew about just to comment on them. My complaint about the last novel was that there was no real synthesis to the end, no denouement, which was not really something that it needed, it was just something I missed and that I like to see. One complaint I have this time around is that there was far too much denouement. Once the reader knows everything that Leah knows, there are still a few chapters left for Leah to reiterate her points and wrap everything up. I think it would be fair to say that I was dissatisfied with the ending because, in my opinion, the author built up the suspense only to leave me with an ending that I expected.
One more element that I was disappointed with was characterization, specifically within the fairly large cast of supporting characters. Leah is a teacher, and so she has a few colleagues that she interacts with, but nothing goes beyond face value. She goes out for drinks with her colleague Kate Turner, who then proceeds to ask her to go again a few more times, but nothing comes of it. It is mentioned that the principal of the school has a bit of a crush on Leah, but again, this is never brought up again as an interesting story point. There’s a “romance” (if you can call it romantic) for Leah that lacks any real substance, it’s all surface level stuff. What’s more, we don’t really get any background information for any of the characters besides Emmy, Leah, and a woman named Bethany Jarvitz who is involved in an attack. Of course, it isn’t necessary for supporting characters to be illustrated in detail, but there were a few characters that I would have liked to see the motives and thoughts of.
To be honest with you, the ending of this novel did kind of confuse me. It’s not that I didn’t understand what was happening– well, ok, it is like that. The motives of certain characters were so unclear, and it felt like Leah just sort of gave up on everything and rushed to her own conclusion. I did enjoy part of the ending, where Leah heads back into the city. The story takes place in the same three or four locations for the entire time, and so this was a welcome change. For about a page or two, the story picks up again and is more fast-paced, but then it slips back into its comfort zone and remains pretty safe for the remainder of the novel.
Now, I don’t want this to end on a sour note so I’ll go over some of the things that I really did enjoy about this book. I read the novel in stages, and during the first stage, I couldn’t put the book down. I really enjoyed the idea of “a person who never existed” and I was asking a lot of questions, theorizing, etc. The glimpses we get into Leah’s past are intriguing, and I liked seeing her put together the lost elements of Emmy’s life.
To be fair, I did have high expectations for this read as I was quite impressed with Megan Miranda’s previous novel. No, the book did not live up to my expectations and yes, I was left with a lot of questions and loose threads. I would recommend it, on the pretense that you’re looking for something quick, and that you aren’t too interested in complex character development. Megan Miranda does have a talent for writing suspense, and I will probably read anything she puts out in the future.
Thanks for checking out this review! Happy reading.