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The Illusion of a Girl

Children/Young Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

Perception is king, especially in a small Ohio town. Jessie Taylor seems like a normal 15-year-old girl, but she’s an illusion of what people expect her to be: a good girl, a smart girl, and most importantly, a girl from a respectable family. Her family may appear ordinary, even wholesome, but behind closed doors it’s an alcohol-soaked nightmare without reprieve. Jessie and her brother Brian, struggle bravely together as they fight to survive their violent father. Even the excitement of falling in love for the first time can’t seal the foundational cracks in her psyche. As her home life worsens, Jessie mentally begins to bend and then break. No one foresees the girl Jessie becomes, the dark abilities she possesses or the vengeance she'll take. Based on a true story, the author grew up with an abusive alcoholic father and lived to share the tale. She hopes her story inspires others to move beyond their dysfunctional families and stop the cycle of abuse.
Drawing on Werner's own traumatic experiences, this well-crafted debut YA thriller shows a brother and sister coping as best they can with an abusive alcoholic father. When Louis drinks, he gets violent toward his teen children, Brian and Jessie. Their mother, Jan, makes excuses for him instead of protecting them. The siblings must learn how to stay alive. For Brian, that means taking a punch and not letting it escalate; for Jessie, it means running fast. As the emotional strain becomes too much, Jessie begins having out-of-body experiences and not recognizing herself in the mirror. Finally, when she finds her boyfriend kissing another girl, she becomes overwhelmed, a switch flips, and another personality named Lena takes over.

Alternating points of view from Jessie, Brian, and later Lena and toddler personality Annie give readers a distinct sense of dread, conflict, and the weight of every decision the children make. Werner combines the normal stresses of teen life with the oppressive atmosphere of an abusive home, showing how impossible it is for the siblings to ever feel safe. When Jessie’s new personalities appear, they feel almost inevitable, as does the showdown with Louis once sarcastic, violent Lena begins expressing everything Jessie has learned to suppress.

Werner brings a strong, confident voice to a difficult subject. Though the story is fiction, readers will feel the truth in Jessie’s raw emotions, experiences, and unique point of view. Werner gives some lift to the story, mostly in Jessie's romantic entanglements, but shows clearly that there is very little light in the everyday life of an abuse victim. The ending is a little abrupt and leaves some questions unanswered, but it's a deeply chilling conclusion to one major chapter of Brian and Jessie’s lives. This is a somber portrait of children clutching at any way to survive.

Takeaway: This gripping story of surviving abuse will enthrall teen and adult fans of unsettling psychological thrillers.

Great for fans of Katrina Leno’s The Half Life of Molly Pierce, Francesca Zappia’s Made You Up.

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


5.0 out of 5 stars Superb writing, compelling narrative

Reviewed in the United States on February 8, 2020

Format: Kindle Edition

I was given a copy for a fair and honest review and I was not disappointed. The drunk, abusive father thread was very reminiscent of the stories my husband has told me about his childhood. It rings true and is supremely well written. This story is also well edited and has a professional, quality cover design and layout on par with traditionally published books. It's the ideal self-published outcome: a story most publishers would be afraid to publish that's well written and will give strength and hope to the millions of kids in similar situations. Bravo! I will be following this author's work!