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Tobias Maxwell
2165 Hillside
Reeling from personal tragedy, Sally Gardner and her parents try to move on with their lives in their new home at 2165 Hillside Road in New Rochelle, NY. The future doesn’t seem so bright as simply doable until a ghost and questionable porn, a cult and the Y2K millennium bug that consumed everyone back in 1999, along with the unmistakable hue of Mormon entanglements become a haunting mystery that must be solved. When Zelda, with her own connection to Hillside, joins forces with their friendly lesbian neighbor, Cherice, the two women follow a twisted series of clues that unravels all their lives.
Maxwell (The Month After September) stuns and surprises in this psychological thriller centered at the house that stands at 2165 Hillside in New Rochelle, New York. Ralph, the first of the described “incantations of ghosts” to haunt the house, is an elderly man eerily fascinated with Sally, the young girl whose family moves in after Ralph’s death. Sally uses ASL to “communicate with Ralph,” and she reveals that her older sister, Celina, had gone missing after a date set up through an online chat room. What follows is Sally’s quest “to fly and find [her] sister,” opening the door to an intense–and at times hard-to-stomach–ride that spans life, death, and timelines.

Maxwell has crafted a myriad of dismaying characters, including a sadistic former cult member and kidnapper (among other things), a child pornography fan turned rapist, and the diabolical cult leader who catalyzed it all. Much of the novel takes place when Sally is a young girl, and her quest is not for the faint of heart. Readers will find themselves simultaneously disgusted, scared, and fascinated by how the loose threads and varying viewpoints will come together in the end. Rest assured–although the story becomes tangled, particularly when characters swap names, time periods, and relationships with each other, all of the ghosts of 2165 Hillside’s past will be exorcized by the end.

A slew of different narrators deliver this story in a way that affords readers the chance to play detective, but buyer beware: some of the text will be difficult to forget, especially some sex scenes. Readers will be gripped by the novel’s fast pace once the groundwork is laid, but a natural aversion to some of the characters may at times override the thrills. Maxwell ties up the ending nicely but leaves plenty for readers to think about after the last page is turned.

Takeaway: A harrowing ghost story in which a young girl struggles to separate truth from fiction and save her kidnapped sister.

Great for fans of: Julia Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts, Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-