The pull of shared history is incredibly strong, as demonstrated in this trio of new sister-centric thrillers. There’s strangeness and estrangement, intertwining and unraveling, joy and terror as these sets of siblings revisit the past in hopes of forging a better, less frightening future.
Blood Will Tell
In Blood Will Tell, a tense new thriller by Heather Chavez (No Bad Deed), a quick trip to the gas station kicks off a chain of increasingly frightening events that thoroughly upend Frankie Barrera’s life.
The single mom and middle school math teacher has no idea why other customers are glaring at her as she pays for her gas. She figures it’s due to mistaken identity or perhaps just a case of the grumpies. Then a text alert brings everything into sharp, shocking focus: Her pickup truck was included in an Amber Alert. Her first reaction? Utter confusion. Her second? Curiosity about whether Izzy, her impulsive and unpredictable younger sister, had anything to do with it.
Frankie soon realizes Izzy was indeed involved, but figuring out how and why will require upsetting trips back into long-suppressed memories of a chaotic night five years earlier when a scared, drunk Izzy had called Frankie for help because she had been in a terrible car crash and wasn’t sure what had happened. Chavez does an excellent job of conveying both the disorienting haziness of a painful past and the push-pull of the sisters’ desire, and reluctance, to face the truth.
Criminals circle and legal issues loom as the sins of the past collide with those of the present. Time is running out, and Frankie and Izzy must decide: Can they end their codependence while solving the mysteries of that fateful night once and for all? Through its unflinching focus on the unhealthiness of entrenched familial roles, Blood Will Tell shines a light on the ways loyalty can become more damaging than nurturing, more misguided than wise.
I’ll Be You
If you had to guess which identical twin and former child TV star would be the one to disappear at the beginning of bestselling author Janelle Brown’s I’ll Be You, you probably wouldn’t pick Elli.
She and her twin, Sam, have had a painfully tumultuous relationship for many years. Sam’s struggles with addiction made it impossible for them to maintain the closeness they reveled in as children, and their former-manager mother’s insistence on reminding them of their so-called good twin/bad twin personalities (that would be Elli and Sam, respectively) has never been helpful either.
But even when things were at their worst, Elli was always there, ready to help or listen. She wouldn’t just check herself into a spa for an indefinite amount of time, leaving everyone, including her recently adopted toddler daughter, behind . . . right? Despite her mother’s refusal to acknowledge that harm might’ve come to Elli, Sam decides to follow her instincts and investigate her estranged sister’s life in hopes of bringing her back home.
After all, Sam thinks, “Who else had ever studied her as closely as I had? Who had ever seen me the way that she did?” But as Sam pores over Elli’s files and tries to talk to her prickly new friends, a distressing pattern emerges, and she realizes the Ojai spa Elli is visiting might not be a place for relaxation but something more sinister, even cult-like. Even worse, the Elli with whom she had swapped places many times has now become an enigma. Elli might not even want to be found.
Readers will enjoy the on-tenterhooks feeling of I’ll Be You as Sam tries to simultaneously maintain her sobriety, fend off her mother’s barbs and track down the elusive Elli. Brown’s depiction of addiction and the toll it takes on Sam, Elli and their family is empathetic and affecting, as are the sisters’ attempts to establish individual identities while keeping a close connection—an eternal struggle for all of us, certainly, but especially challenging when the singular intimacy of twinhood is involved.
The Children on the Hill
What if intimacy that once was a balm for trauma transformed into something twisted, perhaps even deadly? Jennifer McMahon explores this painful possibility in The Children on the Hill, her follow-up to 2021’s bestselling The Drowning Kind. Deliciously gothic details and eerie vibes set the stage for a supremely creepy, often incredibly sad tale inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
In 1978, Violet “Vi” Hildreth and her brother, Eric, enjoy an idyllic childhood on the grounds of Vermont’s Hillside Inn, a psychiatric hospital presided over by their beloved Gran, the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Helen Hildreth. The kids have created a monster club, even collaborating on The Book of Monsters, which is all about the beings they believe are lurking in the darkness.
When Gran brings an orphaned patient named Iris to stay with them, Iris and Vi form an intense bond. Vi resolves to help the traumatized Iris figure out where she came from, even if (especially if) subterfuge and sneaking around are involved.
In a parallel storyline set in 2019, returning to Vermont is the last thing Lizzy Shelley wants to do. She’s a popular author and podcast host who travels the country in pursuit of scary creatures. She believes that monsters are real, and that her long-lost sister is one.
McMahon’s teasingly gradual reveal of the event Lizzy is referring to provides copious thrills as bizarre goings-on unspool, bit by bit. (And yes, a secret basement laboratory is involved.) The alternating timelines converge in shudder-inducing ways that invite readers to ponder these questions from The Book of Monsters: “Don’t we all have a little monster hiding inside us? A little darkness we don’t want people to see?”
Through its innovative take on Shelley’s tragic and memorable classic, The Children on the Hill offers an absorbing contemplation of a sisterhood forged in shared pain, in longing to feel less alone even under the most monstrous of circumstances.