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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

Five Total Strangers, Natalie D Richards: A Review

Boy, do I love a good weather-based thriller. There's just something about being lost, stranded, or stuck that raises the hair on the back of my neck. I was excited to dive into this one.

On Christmas Eve, the most devastating blizzard in decades hits Pennsylvania, grounding Mira's plane and cancelling her connecting flight. Chance intervenes, and she's able to catch a ride with her seatmate and three other strangers. But is it chance? As the journey gets worse, Mira starts to question her fellow passengers, wondering if one of them is intentionally sabotaging the trip. I liked a lot about this book. Mira was a solid MC with a good balance of naivete and insight. I appreciated her reflection on her changing family dynamics, and I also appreciated her observations about the other characters. Sometimes, high school voices tend to read older than they are. I just saw a Buzzfeed article about a high school student using the phrase "excruciating pleasure" when referring to love so, yeah, not always on the nose. Richards did a wonderful job keeping the dialogue youthful without crossing the line into juvenile or adult. Because while the weather is certainly a tense plot addition, this is a character-driven novel, and Mira carries the rest of the cast. Through her eyes, we form our distrust and alliances, and I wanted to know how the passengers were connected because she was invested in the mystery. I did find the prose to be somewhat repetitive at times. The characters have the same structured arguments: something happens, they deny it, they accuse, they settle in. Repeat cycle. The "he must be the culprits" also felt cyclical at times, and I wanted there to be a firmer reason for the suspicions. In particular, one character is brandished untrustworthy for an action completely caused by the storm, and the surety with which Mira questions his character because of it felt shaky. This led to a bittersweet conclusion, where I was neither in love or disappointed. Overall, Five Total Strangers is a sneaky, unsettling winter tale with plenty of suspense and some definite I Know What You Did Last Summer vibes. Thank you to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.


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