She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be, by J.D. Barker

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, JD Barker, and Hampton Creek Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

A fan of JD Barker and his off the wall work, I was happy to get my hands on this ARC of his latest standalone. This book kept me up late, wondering how things would fall into place, while also impressing me with the twists embedded in the narrative. John Edward ‘Jack’ Thatch suffered quite the loss when he was four, as both his parents died in an automobile accident. He visits their gravestones every year on August 8th and when he does so in 1984, young Jack meets Stella, a mysterious little girl. Captivated by her, Jack sees her every year on the same day, but cannot understand who she is there to see or what brings her back. With no parents of her own, Stella is accompanied by a group who wear white coats and travel in sleek vehicles. Jack’s infatuation grows over the years, though Stella remains aloof about his interest. Jack’s day-to-day life heats up in Pittsburgh as he becomes a teenager, particularly when his aunt passes away and leaves him a sum of money. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh PD have been chasing down a number of cold cases, all committed around August 8th. Each of the victims seems to be ‘scorched’ but the surroundings are untouched. Acting on some curious intel, the authorities wonder if Stella might be behind the murders, even though she was just a baby when they began. At the standoff, many die, but Stella is able to elude capture. She flees into the night, on the run for crimes about which she knows all too well. Jack also falls off the grid after learning his father kept a monumental secret from him, which could explain the connection to Stella. This baffling mystery might bring Jack and Stella even closer, while explaining some of the odd things taking place around Pittsburgh for so long. A mind-bending novel that only Barker could concoct. It will leave the reader more confused than when they started, but in the best possible way. Recommended to those who love something that challenges the norms of mystery and thriller writing.

When I first discovered JD Barker, I knew I was in for an exciting ride. His stories are never a simple A to B, meandering around and keeping the reader enthralled until the very end. There is so much to them that the reader must pay close attention and hope that their comprehension hat is firmly affixed. Jack is a wonderfully complex character who develops so well throughout this book, but seems to do so in fits and starts. His backstory is thorough and keeps revealing itself, much as his developments throughout will keep the reader trying to sketch out what they know and how it all fits. There is so much on the go and yet it does not seem overwhelming when taken in small doses. Others, including Stella, develop nicely throughout, as Barker peels back their layers to discover some wonderfully juicy tidbits of their own. Many characters complement what Jack is doing, though some take the story in many tangents. Speaking of the larger story, this is a massive one and goes in so many directions. That being said, Barker keeps it grounded enough that the reader can follow what is going on and see the progression with ease. Broken into multiple parts—which are themselves divided into ‘annual chapters’—the story is more easily digested, without losing the needed narrative momentum. I found myself in awe as I finished, to see where I had come in this reading journey. This book is not for the weak of heart or superficial reader, but I can assure any who take the journey, it will not be easily forgotten.

Kudos, Mr. Barker, for a great tale that took me on quite the adventure.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: