The Stillwater Girls
by Minka Kent
Two sisters raised in fear are about to find out why in a chilling novel of psychological suspense from the author of The Thinnest Air.
Ignorant of civilization and cautioned against its evils, nineteen-year-old Wren and her two sisters, Sage and Evie, were raised in off-the-grid isolation in a primitive cabin in upstate New York. When the youngest grows gravely ill, their mother leaves with the child to get help from a nearby town. And they never return.
As months pass, hope vanishes. Supplies are low. Livestock are dying. A brutal winter is bearing down. Then comes the stranger. He claims to be looking for the girls’ mother, and he’s not leaving without them.
To escape, Wren and her sister must break the rule they’ve grown up with: never go beyond the forest.
Past the thicket of dread, they come upon a house on the other side of the pines. This is where Wren and Sage must confront something more chilling than the unknowable. They’ll discover what’s been hidden from them, what they’re running from, and the secrets that have left them in the dark their entire lives.
This book was recommended to me by a good friend who was raving about it, so I jumped on the bandwagon and got a copy for myself, only to hear from the same friend a few hours later – yes, hours – that the ending did not live up to expectations.
Argh! Was I about to waste my valuable reading time on something that would disappoint? A few other reviews – though definitely not all – said much the same thing. It didn’t bode well.
Still, I had the book already – it had to be worth checking it out for myself, after all, I might love it. My friend and I have disagreed over books in the past. (Though, to be fair, we’ve agreed more times than disagreed) Maybe this would be another one of those moments.
And you know what? For the first 75%, I abso-bloody-lutely loved this story. It was well-paced; I could totally empathise with the characters, they intrigued me – it was all good.
I felt for Wren and Sage, left alone in that cabin in the woods, where food was running out but not their hope that Mama and sister Evie would be back soon. When that knock on their door came, I was with them, hiding behind the couch, trembling. The plan wasn’t working out. It was time to leave. I so wanted Wren and Sage to find their mother and sister, and to see that maybe the world wasn’t as bad nor as scary as they’d been told.
Meanwhile, Nicolette and husband Brant lived a charmed life, endless travel opportunities led to recognition for Brant’s photographic career while Nic looked forward to them becoming foster parents after an emergency hysterectomy meant she couldn’t carry a child herself.
Unfortunately, a baby photo in Brant’s sock drawer, and several large withdrawals from her trust fund – without her knowledge – brought doubt to her door. Was Brant cheating? Did he have another family somewhere else?
There was tension every which way, and I raced through the book. It didn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that the first house Wren and Sage came across belonged to Nic and Brant; and there was a logical reason for Nic to be at home when they knocked on her door. (She usually went to Florida for the winter, but had decided to confront Brant about the money instead)
As the truth came out about the Stillwater Darlings who lived in the cabin in the woods, living a life without electricity or modernity of any kind, it seemed only reasonable – and rather sweet – that Nic would want to help them.
And then came the moment that left me open-mouthed, where the facts of Nicolette’s past were revealed. My first thoughts were that the story had taken a shocking, fascinating and somewhat incredulous turn. While all the connections were finally made, it still left me baffled. Could that have happened? (I’m not going to share the details here in case you’d care to see for yourself) Everyone in Stillwater knew what had happened to Nicolette, including Brant, Cate, (her friend in Florida) and even her parents – and they all agreed to say nothing. Only Nicolette had no idea, no memory of what she’d done.
I loved the author’s writing, she drew me in with strong characters, all the emotional ups and downs you could wish for, and so much dramatic tension. I’ll definitely be checking out her other books. This would be perfect for #bookclubs as it certainly generates conversation. I love that in a book, and I’d recommend those curious enough to check it out for themselves.
My thanks to Netgalley and the author / publisher for a copy of this book; my review is made voluntarily.