Quick review for a progressive read. Admittedly, I took my time with Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s “An Anonymous Girl”. The premise of this book was right up my alley, maybe because I tend to like books that have a scientific slant to them. (If it’s any indication, I read Megan Abbott’s “Give Me Your Hand” just before finishing this one – so it might’ve been a case of “right time, right subject” when I entered this story.) And I’m very much aware that this is one of those books that you’ll pick up and ask the main character “Woman, why are you doing any of this? Don’t you know that’s a very, very, VERY bad idea?”
I came into this book with that expectation and ended up loving it anyway.
Here’s the scenario, a young make-up artist (Jessica) inadvertently stumbles into a research study looking for an opportunity for some extra cash. By inadvertently, I mean she ends up looking at one of her client’s phones and ends up impersonating herself as a “friend” substituting herself into said study. This is sketch in itself, but bear with me, because there’s nothing about this scenario that isn’t sketch to begin with.
Jessica takes part in Dr. Shields’ study on morality/ethics, answering a series of computer based test questions. Jessica reveals quite a bit about herself – in the realm of her relationships, past traumatic experiences, her struggles to keep her finances afloat as well as help her family – the whole nine yards. I definitely felt for Jessica on many of these fronts, the narrative giving ample opportunity to get into Jessica’s head and sentiments regarding all this. She’s definitely a very flawed character, but I still found myself willing to follow her. Considering this is a two-person narrative, it was easy to see and distinguish her voice in the mix of things. The other voice in this novel is none other than Dr. Shields, a woman who takes a rather…keen interest in Jessica. Not in the “Single White Female” sense exactly, but definitely one where you definitely have reason to suspect why she’s so invested in Jessica. Dr. Shields’s perspective takes a very “clinical” (meaning removed) perspective in describing her investment in Jessica as well as the life that she leads. She decides to take Jessica under her wing for more experimental tests and incentives, each trial testing the limits of how far Jessica will go.
Now, having a researcher’s mind and background, I could easily point out “Um….yeah, I’m pretty sure none of this would pass IRB standards or testing protocols”, but reading this book was the equivalent of watching a popcorn horror movie. All of this sounds like a bad idea (and it is), but it’s hard not to look away to see what actually happens and how the characters react given the pieces that are put into play. You’re the equivalent of shouting to the character “Don’t go into the basement”…and they go into the basement, at which point you know they’re screwed, but not how badly they’re screwed. That’s what kept me moving through the novel at a rapid pace – to see how far both Dr. Shields and Jessica would go. I wouldn’t say it’s as compelling as a “cat and mouse” dynamic, but rather “puppet and puppeteer”, because Dr. Shields sets up a lot of cards and it’s just a matter of which ones she’ll willingly use against Jessica to keep up her game as long as possible. The reader feels like they’re one step ahead of all the action and knowing things that the characters may not know on either end. It’s fun to see how they come to the conclusions they do and how they choose to move from there.
I felt like the ending was a let down compared to the momentum of the novel through much of it. The conclusion – while it tied things together – for me wasn’t as satisfying as getting justice for everything that the character went through. The context felt too quick and non-developmental for all the psychological build-up and dynamic between the characters. Not to mention…it’s problematic for a number of reasons.
Still, I think there were many merits to this story, and I enjoyed the journey it took me on.
Overall score: 4/5 stars.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.