Look at you, creeptastic cover! You win at that. Let’s go on, then, to discuss some of the ways in which you do not win.
So. It is Now and Phoebe is dating Sam, who is Rugged and Awesome (until later, when he suddenly and inexplicably Sucks) and whose little sister Lisa ran away to be with the fairies (or something not as fantastic [THAT IS THE MYSTERY PART SO I CAN’T TELL YOU]), and now it is The Past and Lisa is about to run away with the fairies (or etc). Chapter with Phoebe and Sam, in which they meet up with Sam’s cousin Evie to discuss freaky phone calls from long-lost Lisa and then some super-weird shit happens (kudos for getting into the super-weird shit super-early! You also super-win at that), chapter with Young Sam and Young Lisa and Young Evie first discovering the fairy hole.
So there’s Then and Now, a construct which I enjoy for SUSPENSE PURPOSES, but then there’s the literary digression that I sort of can’t stand. It’s the next worse thing to outright telling. Like, instead of the author being all, Little Bill was a good kid, she’s like, Little Bill was a good kid, digression into story about Bill being good that exists solely to demonstrate Bill’s goodness. Little Bill liked school, digression into story which illustrates that Bill likes school. And I’m fine with backstory, but I want it to flow. I don’t want it doled out to me in purposeful, exemplary pieces.
(This sort of Forced Exposition carries WELL into the novel. Like, 311 pages in, when we have met Hazel a majillion times, she ‘grab[s] her bulky purse, crammed full of [such character-defining elements as] tissues, romance novels, and expired coupons.’ Yes! We get it. Hazel is soppy and low-class and poor. We have known this for some 250 pages.)
But ok. Weirdness happens vis a vis Lisa’s disappearance, Sam is (unsurprisingly) reticent about things, Phoebe does some sleuthing on her own and ALSO gets knocked up (which I sort of thought was a stupid plot point shoe-horned in so that, when Phoebe pulls Dangerous Stunts, McMahon can be all like, ‘It wasn’t just her life she was putting in danger. What kind of mother-to-be made choices like that?’ Double your tension, double your fun! But then it ends up being important and relevant later) and there’s this hilarious moment when she’s buying a pregnancy test, and the woman behind the counter is like, Aren’t you Sam’s girlfriend? And Phoebe is like, Ack! I mean, no? And the woman’s like, Ok. Well here’s a TON OF INFORMATION about that family and their cursed past, which I will give to you even though you are edging out the door.
And, ok. I AM AWARE that this bothers me and, like, nine other people, that I am being a fucking princess and this is my literary pea. But on one page, a string of seven paragraphs each begin thusly:
Sentence that has nothing to do with heads,
‘Phoebe shook her head,’
Sentence that has nothing to do with heads,
‘Franny shook her head,’
Also, Phoebe answers a question that does not appear to have been asked. Also, at one point Sam claims that the furniture in his mom’s house has been there ‘since he’d been alive’ which implies that he is now dead (which *spoiler* is not one of the freaky things, although THAT would have been a PLOT DEVELOPMENT). These sorts of things make me claw my eyes, and I will need them later.
So the writing made me crazy. And the characterization, because everyone is drawn directly from central casting. Oooh, and when Sam starts getting very Withdrawn and Mysterious and Phoebe has to be like, THIS IS VERY UNLIKE HIM because somehow McMahon forgot to plot Sam’s not being sort of a secretive douche into the early pages (except for maybe the first two, but that is limited to Phoebe being like, This is my boyfriend Sam and he is Rugged and Awesome). BUT! It’s very good with creepy bits, like old ladies showing up in your room in the middle of the night and then running off into the woods, turning into beautiful co-eds as you chase them. And then the Ultimate Business is unsettling, especially if you read it in the dark.
I am le torn. While I enjoyed the suspense, I sort of hated the way the suspense was gone about. And while I tend to be way more YAY PLOT than yay theme or yay incisive depiction of the human condition, I am ultimately mostly YAY WRITING (see: Venetia, which is basically plotless and which I LOVED IN THE FACE). Which is to say, six caterpillars.