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J.M. Wright
The Kindred
J.M. Wright, author

How far would you go to steal a new life? Unwanted and unloved from the moment of her birth, Jody's childhood was mired in horrific abuse and neglect. And after she finally snaps, she finds herself thrust into a dangerous new world that forces her to do whatever it takes to survive. Longing for freedom and a way to escape her dying marriage, when Rose is offered a job at the Kendrick State Sanitarium, she jumps at the chance. But after she's brought face-to-face with South Carolina's most dangerous patient - a cold-blooded psychopath named Jody - she never could have imagined what she'd be unwittingly dragged into. Jody longs for a new life, and she won't let The Kendrick stand in her way. As she devises a cunning escape plan, she sets her sights on Rose. Drawn together by their mutual wish for freedom, a plot begins to unfold that could either satisfy both their desires... or end in mutual ruin. Perfect for fans of dark and riveting thrillers that explore poignant themes of abuse, freedom, and insanity, The Kindred is a gripping read that answers one chilling question: How can a dangerous female predator escape a mental hospital and steal a new life?

Wright’s gritty mental-ward thriller centers on a young woman, Rose, who takes a job at Alabman’s Kendrick State Sanitarium in 1962, where she meets—and forms a surprising bond with—a notorious killer. The six-time murderer is Jody, a young Black woman whose brutal backstory of abuse and rape thunders through the opening chapters in counterpoint with the perspectives of the novel’s other mysterious figures: a low-ranking mob tough who gets tasked by the don with a personal favor, and Annette, a supervisor at Kendrick State, covers up the secrets of Warden Cravens, who demands trial “subject”s for reasons Wright teases out slowly.

Meanwhile, unsettled Rose is shocked by what she finds making her rounds at the sanitarium, especially once she catches another Kendrick State worker (apparently) forcing himself upon Jody. Both women are Black and recognize that their lives and choices have been shaped by the same oppressive forces. Rose admires the way that Jody refuses to let sanitarium employees cut her hair, and she sees in Jody’s “long, beautiful” mane “a sign of her freedom, her independence, and a sign of rebellion against those who sought to keep her down.” Like Rose, readers will empathize with Jody, feeling for the horror she has endured, though we’re aware of the ways Jody manipulates Rose’s perceptions.

Wright weaves complex relationships between these characters, allowing them each opportunities to upend our expectations—even Annette, a figure who in other tellings might emerge as one-dimensional. The themes, too, are rich and at times challenging, as Wright explores mental health, systemic corruption, and the intense racial and gender dynamics of the mid-century American south, at a time when women like Rose are stirred by the speeches of Martin Luther King yet still see little evidence that freedom is anything but a dream. The assaults, violence, and eventual conflagration are harrowing, but the novel’s heart is in the promise of connection and freedom for young women “versed in the language of pain.”

Takeaway: This harrowing mental-ward thriller faces issues of racism and abuse in the mid-century American South.

Great for fans of: Megan Giddings’s Lakewood, Erin Kelly’s Stone Mothers.

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