Super-close friends, a begrudgingly blended family and a passel of A-listers all contend with the scary side of wealth.
It’s not unusual for teen friendships to be intense, even all-consuming, but Bethany C. Morrow’s compelling and disturbing Cherish Farrah takes things to a whole new level.
As the only Black girls in their affluent school and community, Farrah Turner and Cherish Whitman have been drawn to each other since meeting in the third grade. Although Farrah’s family lives just blocks away from Cherish’s, their lives have always been very different. Cherish’s extravagantly adoring adoptive parents are white, and they have the kind of wealth that buys them an opulent home with a triple-tiered backyard—and Cherish a privileged life that Farrah characterizes as WGS, or “white girl spoiled.”
When readers first meet the young women, Cherish is sighing about her parents throwing a fancy party for her 17th birthday, while Farrah struggles with the foreclosure of her family’s home. The Whitmans have invited Farrah to stay with them for a bit, which is a no-brainer for Farrah. Although her internal monologues are riddled with scorn for Cherish, she considers Cherish “sometimes obtuse, often insufferably spoiled, but always mine.”
That sense of superiority is central to Farrah’s increasingly tortured thought processes. She’s long felt unseen and frequently refers to the “meticulously crafted mask” she maintains as a form of control—a word so often used it becomes a twisted mantra central to Farrah’s existence. She wants to control and manipulate her relationships and feel as special as the undeserving Cherish does every day.
But Farrah’s been slipping a bit lately. Cherish resists her guidance when she never did before. Farrah’s parents aren’t as enthused about her staying with the Whitmans as they once were. And Farrah’s been feeling ill, too, suffering nausea and dizziness as well as ominous dreams. Is she still the danger—or is she in danger?
Morrow’s tale tips from slow-building suspense into horror as the story progresses, and she does an excellent job of illustrating the ways in which envy and power can corrode relationships and reality even as she carefully, mercilessly immerses readers in Farrah’s singularly unsettling worldview.
The Younger Wife
Sally Hepworth’s The Younger Wife kicks off with narration by an uninvited—and unidentified—wedding guest who witnesses a distressing turn of events. Has someone been hurt on this hitherto lovely day? Why? At whose hand?
It’s a deliciously intriguing beginning to this entertaining tale set in Melbourne, Australia. The rest of the book is mainly told from the perspectives of three 30-something women: sisters Tully and Rachel, daughters of wealthy cardiac surgeon Stephen Aston, and Heather, Stephen’s wife-to-be.
The sisters are shocked when 69-year-old Stephen announces his impending nuptials. After all, his wife and their mother, Pamela, is still alive; Stephen recently moved her to a nursing home for dementia treatment and never mentioned any plans for a divorce until now. It’s also discomfiting that Heather is their age, and they don’t love that the couple met when Stephen hired Heather as an interior designer for the home he and Pamela shared—the home Heather will soon move into.
Plus, Pamela’s been making comments indicating that Stephen may have been abusive. In what way and to what extent, Rachel isn’t sure, and she knows it won’t help to talk to Tully, who’s even more anxious and snide than usual. Unbeknownst to Rachel, there’s more to Tully’s behavior than her disapproval of Heather: Her family is in financial trouble, but she’s too ashamed to talk about it. For her part, Rachel is also struggling with repressed trauma that has begun to resurface.
The secrets pile up and up (Heather’s got some doozies, too) as Hepworth skillfully plumbs the characters’ pasts and builds pressure in the present. She seeds their musings with tidbits that will tantalize readers as they try to discern whether people are sinister or misunderstood; what happened at the wedding; and why the heck Pamela had thousands of dollars squirreled away in a hot-water bottle. Beneath all the suspense, Hepworth’s exploration of trauma and its aftermath is sensitively and compellingly done, as is her subtle examination of the ways in which wealth—having it, wanting it, losing it—can color relationships, perspectives and self-worth.
Wealth is practically a main character in The Club by Ellery Lloyd, aka the married British co-authors Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos. Wealth is the arbiter of who belongs and who doesn’t, who matters and who is of no import in the world of The Home Group, a collection of exclusive membership clubs that cater to the exceedingly rich and fabulously famous.
The newest club, Island Home—an opulent private island outside London dotted with cabins, restaurants, spas and more—is opening with a huge three-day celebration, invitations for which are highly coveted. Ned Groom, the bombastic and temperamental CEO of Home Group, hands them out with calculated glee.
The prologue reveals that a body will be found on the island after the big bash; as one of the faux Vanity Fair articles sprinkled throughout the book notes, “the party of the year turned into the murder mystery of the decade.” It’s initially unclear who’s been killed or why, but as Lloyd counts down the days leading up to the murder, it becomes evident that Ned’s an excellent candidate, although plenty of the guests are odious, too—some laughably (and murder-ably?) so.
Working behind the scenes to wrangle the guests is an art in and of itself, one that grows more frustrating as opening day approaches. Colorful dispatches from a rotating cast of staff offer juicy behind-the-scenes details while hinting at dangerous secrets galore. There’s Jess, head of housekeeping; Annie, fixer extraordinaire; Nikki, Ned’s assistant; and Adam, Ned’s almost-as-obnoxious brother. They all have their own ulterior motives and unmet desires, a difficult state of affairs when surrounded by people who have so much yet are so ungrateful.
Like Lloyd’s debut, People Like Her, The Club is a clever murder mystery that provides thrills and gasps galore, as well as a pointed and clear-eyed cautionary tale about the downsides of money and fame. Is all the jockeying for power and catering to terrible people (while, one assumes, trying not to get murdered) worth it? Membership in The Club has its perils right alongside its privileges.