Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

Pub date: September 11, 2012.

Author website.

The quaint little beach town of Winston, California, may be full of wholesome townsfolk, picturesque beaches, and laid back charm, but Clare Knight is about to uncover something underneath its thriving demeanor. Someone is hiding something, and it's as gruesome as the townsfolk, and their stately homes, are stunning. Amanda Stavros, fellow classmate and resident of Winston, is gone and there's no sign of her ever coming back. Everyone says she was taken and murdered, but where's the evidence? Why isn't there a single ounce of proof? And why is everyone okay with this, except for Clare? 

Luckily—or as it's been turning out, unluckily—Clare possesses a gift, an ability to see visions from the clothes she works with. And since her clothes come solely from the townsfolk, Clare has become privy to some startling and disturbing memories of these townspeople. Will she uncover who killed Amanda Stavros? Or is she just moving herself up in line to be the next victim of Winston?  (

Every once in a while I'll come across a book that'll drag me in not necessarily based on the blurb but the setting.  Winston, California reminded me a lot of Santa Cruz.  A bit more sedate, not as hippie-esque, but still a reminder.  Within the context of the story it lies south of Monterey and is three hours south of San Francisco, which makes it a little less than two hours away from Santa Cruz.  Sold.  I just love the area that much that a LOCATION will pull me into a book.  Premise need not apply.

Lucky for me HANGING BY A THREAD was actually a really good book and a welcome addition to a sorely underrepresented thriller market in YA.  Yes, it has slightly supernatural elements: Clare sees people's histories when she touches clothes, something her mother has brow-beaten into her as being bad while her grandmother (also a gift-holder) doesn't feel the same way, leaving a lovely rift in the family.

So while Clare's mom did her best to eliminate this "gift" from her daughter, it's left Clare a bit conflicted.  She's started seeing things in some random clothes she picked up.  And they're horrible things.  And she just doesn't know what to do about it.  The town has a murder mystery that's going to end up destroying it and Clare just might have it in her to solve it.  Except for the fact that she wants nothing more than to fit in in a new, and small, town.  What would her new friends think if they knew about what she could do?  Call her a freak?  Probably.  So not only is she torn about how to use her gift at home, she doesn't even know if she should be herself socially, if people will accept her for it.

I loved Clare.  I loved that she was so passionate about design, that she was so goal-oriented about making her passion work for her and how, at sixteen-years-old, she already as a small "business" selling her wares in her new home.  Her new friends love her style and all she wants to do is make the history of her family (and the supposed haunted house she lives in) go away and she does a pretty good job of it.  It also helps that most of the people she comes in contact with don't put as much emphasis on her family's past as she does.  Really she's just such a wonderful character that it was impossible for me to not immediately get on her side about everything.  And then the crap really started hitting the fan and she didn't have all the answers and actually had to do work herself (loved that! kind of rare in YA, unfortunately) I could actually feel her being torn about things, I could feel her desire to help but at the same time warring with herself about just what she could do.

Her love interest, Jake, I was less than impressed with.  He's set up to have a bad reputation from the beginning which, I think, is a fairly obvious red herring to some extent but he really didn't do much to put the kibosh on any of it.  He was temperamental, snapped at Clare a lot, gave her the cold shoulder after little more than a comment he wasn't thrilled with.  I did like the fact that Clare argued with herself over liking him, about how she shouldn't because there was something off about him.  At least she realized it but ultimately it didn't stop her which kind of irked me.  He did turn out to be a good guy but if it were me just the things he said and how he acted in the beginning would have been a total turn-off and not something I would have pursued.

HANGING BY A THREAD offers its own unique blend of supernatural and thriller to deliver a story that'll keep you sucked in from the beginning.  Balanced out by Clare's will to just have a normal life, it gives the story just enough grounding to keep it something believable as opposed to launching it into outer space.  It won't take very long before you start trying to put the pieces together and try and solve the mystery right along with Clare.  Even if you're not big into supernatural elements, Clare's ability isn't an overwhelming force in the story.  It serves it's purpose and it could have gotten out of control but Littlefield did an excellent job of reigning it in and keeping it relevant to the plot and making sure Clare didn't lose focus of it.  Of course the story wouldn't be what it is without Clare's gift but it moves things along without leading them along.

Just like YA needs more horror, it needs more thriller as well.  A story that focuses on THE STORY, where the main motivation, the main theme, is the thriller aspect.  Not romance, not angst, thriller.  HANGING BY A THREAD delivers not only all of this but blissfully leaves behind the love triangle for something, you know, more interesting.

Ban Factor: Medium - Banners would actually need to read the book to find anything objectionable, like teen murder and pre-marital kissing.  So this could rightly fly under the radar.
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