Monday, January 2, 2017

The stranger game by Cylin Busby

It has been four years since Sarah, Nico's older sister, rode her bike away from the family home and disappeared.  Sarah was supposed to stay home and look after Nico, but she chose to sneak off and meet with her boyfriend instead.  In the weeks that followed everyone rallied around the family, the press conferences and missing persons posters a neon sign that screamed to the world the pain their family was in.  Over the years, the reports of possible sightings has drifted off, life drifting into a new kind of normal as everyone goes back to their lives - everyone except for the remains of their family, a threesome that was meant to be a quartet. 

Life can never truly go back to normal though, and while they may look like a family they are really three people living separate lives in the same space.  Nico may have returned to a somewhat normal routine of after school activities and having friends, but she is always aware that her mother is watching and waiting, holding her tight and keeping her too close.  That starts to change when the unexpected happens and Sarah is found - alive and suffering from amnesia.  Nico should be happy, it is a miracle that Sarah was found alive, but she keeps waiting for things to go back to normal.  She is waiting for the whispered jibes, the sarcastic biting comments, and disgusted looks.  The Sarah who comes home is strangely different though, she seems kind and more than a little lost, wanting to connect with the family she left behind.

I wasn't sure what to expect from The stranger game, but what I got was a well written novel with surprising depth and understanding of human nature in a relatively light and easy to read format (and yes I realise that sounds like a contradiction).  Through Nico's eyes and memories we gain a picture of an older sister that was cruel and abusive, physically and emotionally dominating over a younger and easily intimidated sister.  Her words and actions were calculated and cold, robbing a young Nico of her self confidence and self belief.  The Sarah that returns is changed by her own experiences and leaves Nico confused and on edge, waiting for the physical and verbal blows that never seem to come.  Over time Nico realises that the Sarah that has returned is not the same as the Sarah who left, and when a new threat arises for their family Nico must find a way to come to terms with the fact that things have changed and it is up to her to find acceptance with what was and what is.

This book is highly recommended for teens, and other readers, who enjoy books that have strong characters that you can connect with and see from the inside out.  There is a strong storyline that is easy to connect with, and more than once left me feeling an intense sense of empathy for the characters and what they are going through.  This may be a relatively short and lightly written book, but that makes it accessible to readers who enjoy character driven stories with depth, but who may not have strong reading skills.  Thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable, an emotional roller coaster that was totally worth the ride.

If you like this book then try:
  • The face on the milk carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Thousand words by Jennifer Brown
  • You are my only by Beth Kephart
  • The mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
  • Girl, missing by Sophie McKenzie
  • The way I used to be by Amber Smith
  • Speechless by Hannah Harrington
  • Lies we tell ourselves by Robin Talley
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher

Reviewed by Brilla

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