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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

Mirrorland, Carole Johnstone: A Review

Once in a while, a book will catch my eye because of an interesting title and cover combination. Mirrorland was that such book, and I was really excited to jump into this one. With an April release, I know I'm a little ahead of the game, but reading this was well worth the anticipation for its release.

Cat and El are identical twin sisters, estranged, but always connected. So when Cat receives word that her sister has gone missing, she returns to their childhood hometown in order to find her. Everyone around her is convinced she's dead, but Cat knows El's games. She knows what she's capable of. And she knows that this has everything to do with Mirrorland, the imaginary oasis the girls created to as children. Ominous messages. Ambiguous choices. A past clouded by fear and secrecy. What happened the last night of their first life? Where is El? Mirrorland is the answer, and Cat will find it. Phew, what a read. This is the kind of book that will stick with you long after you finish with it. On the surface, it has a lot of fantastic ingredients of a well-written suspense. I loved the mysterious messages, the shifting shadows of doubt, and the layered intrigue surrounding El's disappearance. The unreliable narrator is one of my favorite POVs, and there was no shortage of distrust here. You think you know what's going on, then everything is flipped on its head. On its own, that would make an excellent read, but Johnstone didn't stop there. Along with a Gone Girl-esque thriller, we get a brutal examination of abuse, both psychological and physical, and the ramifications this destructive behavior can produce. There are many parts of this story that are difficult to stomach. Johnstone creates a world where we see things through Cat's eyes, and in her eyes, we are taken on this journey of discovery, where we are in media res when she learns that what she thinks is normal is far from it, and the effect is gutting. I think that's what stood out to me most in this book. It's easy to give a character a troubled backstory, but making it breathe takes finesse. I also didn't feel like it was using the abuse as entertainment, but rather to explore the nuanced, complex, and non-linear trajectory of a survivor's healing process. And you know I had to mention it: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is my all-time favorite King story, and I LOVE seeing it referenced so beautifully here. Indeed, there are many King easter eggs, and I think for any Constant Reader, that alone will make this an enjoyable addition to your TBR. This may be Johnstone's debut novel, but I am excited to see more work from her in the future. Hope is a good thing, and the power of hope rings in every page through Cat. Smart, chilling, and engrossing, Mirrorland is a must-read in 2021. Big thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.


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