Thrills and Chills
by Rachel Cunningham, Circulation Supervisor
As the sidewalk’s decorations change from discarded fireworks wrappings and grass clippings to yellowed leaves and cracked walnut husks, I begin to reflect on the year behind me. Yes, there are still about 100 days left in 2021 – some hope for our “to read” list – but we can also begin to evaluate what we’ve accomplished so far.
In 2021, I wanted to intentionally spend time reading about characters with a story that was different from mine. Writer Angeline Boulley is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and published her first book, “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” in early 2021. The debut is a Young Adult thriller, focusing on the Ojibwe community. Deferring her acceptance to the University of Michigan, Daunis Fontaine stays in her hometown to support her mother after her uncle’s fatal meth overdose and her grandmother’s stroke. Daunis believes that bad things always come in three, which comes to fruition when her best friend, Lily, is murdered by her meth-addicted ex-boyfriend. Desperate to find justice for Lily, Daunis begrudgingly aids undercover FBI agents in their investigation into the drug operations on the reservation. However, things begin to spiral out of control as she finds connections too close to home. Through Daunis, Boulley educates readers about the traditions and beliefs of the Ojibwe people. Although this novel focuses too heavily on Daunis’s romantic relationship and reads as a debut novel, I would still recommend it to readers interested in learning about the Ojibwe community, the under investigated crimes against indigenous people, and the contemporary politics within tribes.
Along with many others, I enjoyed Courtney Summers’s award-winning thriller “Sadie” and looked forward to her 2021 novel “The Project.” Using alternating narratives, readers follow the stories of two sisters after the accident that killed their parents. While Lo is struggling to survive her injuries, her sister, Bea, desperately pleads for Lo’s life in the hospital’s chapel. In this vulnerable moment, 19-year-old Bea meets Lev Warren, the leader of The Unity Project. After a “healing” from Lev, Lo’s health miraculously improves. Bea immediately joins Lev and The Project, leaving Lo behind. Six years later, Lo is now nineteen, with a large disfiguring scar. Despite her efforts, Lo has been unable to reach her sister at The Project. However, after witnessing a member from The Project commit suicide at a train station, Lo decides to investigate the group and find her sister. The deeper Lo digs into The Project, the less certain she becomes about everything she thought she knew. Although listed as a thriller about cults, “The Project” is a study in family bonds, grief, and loneliness. Lo’s unrelenting search for her sister drives her to make precarious decisions, but after all, “Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make – and no one but the two of you can break.”
Also new in 2021 is Laura McHugh’s “What’s Done in Darkness.” McHugh has returned to the Ozarks, a familiar setting for those who read her award-winning novel “The Weight of Blood.” Sarabeth is 14 years old when her parents relocate their family to an isolated farm, joining a fundamentalist sect, Holy Rock Church. Despite her parents’ efforts, Sarabeth doesn’t accept their plain way of life and refuses to comply with her parents’ plan to arrange a marriage by her eighteenth birthday. But before an engagement can be made, Sarabeth is abducted from their family’s roadside farm stand, only to be abandoned along the highway a week later. With no distinguishable memories, local law enforcement refuses to investigate Sarabeth’s case. Rejected by her family, an advocacy group assists Sarabeth’s transformation into Sarah – a girl with her GED, a house, and a job at an animal shelter near St. Louis, MO. Sarah is beginning to piece a new life together when she receives a plea from Nick Farrow at the Missouri Highway Patrol, desperate for insight on cases that bear similarities to hers. Warily, Sarah agrees and returns to her family farm for her 16-year-old sister’s wedding. Reconnecting to her past, Sarah begins to uncover unsettling details as she races to solve the missing girls’ disappearance before it’s too late. With her rich descriptions of setting paired with well-paced tension, McHugh leaves readers with a story they’re unable to put down.
All novels feature female protagonists attempting to solve mysteries that haunt them, with a strong emphasis on familial relationships. Don’t worry, there’s still time to add these to your 2021 “to read” list!