- Plot- or character-driven? A mix
I was really excited to read this book, and it didn't disappoint for the first half or so. I don't know if it's totally a spoiler, but
SpoilerI just found the second half a bit too twisty and outside the realm of plausability. I suppose it's meant to be very "stranger than fiction", but when the entire story is a fiction about someone's lifelong fictions and finding her way out of them... to a very fantastical reality... It fell a bit flat. There just seemed to be too many twists right at the end. I was almost waiting for the epilogue-epilogue to reveal a fifth? Sixth? twist of the end being yet another fiction. I don't know whether that would have been better or not--it would make the entire story more credulous, but also... I was already over the whole twist-in-a-twist Turducken.
But! I loved the descriptive language, the moody atmosphere, the pacing, and it was overall a very compelling read in the thriller genre. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes their mystery/thrillers served with a generous garnish of red herring or side of Turducken.
As children, the main characters El and Cat, did not watch tv. Instead, their mother read them book after book and encouraged them to use their imagination and make their home into a fantasy world full of pirates and clowns and all sorts of wondrous creations that only the mind of a child creates. Now, they are estranged adults, and when El goes missing, Cat must return to their childhood home to follow the clues to solving the mystery of what happened to El and why.
I did work out the conclusion early in the book, and it surprised me that I was right. This in no way impacted my enjoyment of the story; however, because the story is so rich with allegory and symbolism, I was busy studying each crumb of information that came up. The imaginative world reminded me of Peter Pan’s Neverland, Alice’s Wonderland, or even Dorothy’s Oz. Every detail reflects some profound truth that the girls endured and provided clues about what happened to El in the current day mystery.
The story is told through a dual timeline. The first is childhood (’90s), and the second is the present day. I didn’t have any trouble understanding which timeline I was on, and I loved how I found the crumbs to solving the present-day mystery in the past. Cat tells the story with El’s story being told through hidden journal entries hidden as clues to Cat. Much of the past timeline is in these journal entries, which triggers memories for Cat.
I found each sister’s survival instinct and how it played out to be fascinating. Even though El and Cat are twins – mirror twins – the response to the horrors around them was completely different. I found this gave the story a genuineness as that’s how it would happen in real life too. I was also fascinated by the intense look at mother-daughter relationships that showed how nurture could override nature in certain situations. Even given their horrific circumstances, Nancy and her relationship with El and Cat were based on the instinctual need to protect as Nancy worked hard to teach the girls through imaginative play the tools they needed to survive. Whereas another mother-daughter relationship, in a different environment, foiled so many aspects of Nancy’s choices.
The story can be confusing at first, as the imaginative world is so true to what a child would create that it is difficult for adult sensibilities to follow it. I recognized this, just went with the confusion, and that strategy paid off as I easily followed the story through to the end with its shocking conclusion.
Mirrorland is an imaginative yet creepy tale that will keep you guessing to the very end.
SpoilerI was disappointed with the very end, when El returned and the reveal about Mouse. I would have preferred that Cat make up with Mouse and build a relationship with her. It didn't ruin the book for me, though.
- Plot- or character-driven? A mix
- Strong character development? It's complicated
- Loveable characters? It's complicated
- Diverse cast of characters? Yes
- Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes
Graphic: Murder, Suicide, Child abuse, Domestic abuse, and Sexual assault
Even with the much improved second half, the pay off was just barely there. The importance and relationships of different characters shifted abruptly and felt poorly fitted with how the story had been progressing. The ending while not bleak, felt contrived and didn’t quite hit me in the feels as I had hoped it would.
I expected much more from this book and it just barely delivered.
I found it difficult to give this book a higher rating, as for me, it lacked a lot of pace in the first half of the book. Understandably for a thriller there is often a lot of back-story, scene setting and character development, but I found the pace of this part of the story a little slow and long-winded. There are a lot of flashbacks in this story that just seemed to go for ever, and often had me scratching my head wondering “why do I even need to know this?” Sadly, for some of the flashbacks I still don’t know why they were important.
That said, the last half of the book was much better. I cried. A couple of times. I grew angry. There were times where I wanted to put the book down because it was becoming too much to handle, but didn’t want to because I needed to know what was happening. The MC, Cat - I found it really hard to like her at first. She came across as spoilt, self-centred, didn’t care for anyone but herself. El was no better - I thought she was a vindictive, smug little b*!ch who needed to be knocked down a peg or two... but then you find out why. You find out about the experiences that shaped Cat and El into the people they were, and your heart pours out to them. You want to wrap them up in a warm hug and tell them they are ok.
Plot twists? There were a couple. I kinda knew where this story was going from the start, but did not pick the ending. I think if the start of the story could have been bit more cohesive and less narrative, this could have easily been a 5 star read for me.