Published: 8th January 2019
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Trigger warnings: Drugs, suicide references
Seeking women ages 18 – 32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.
When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding.
As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.
This is a book that opens with an intriguing premise, and it effortlessly proceeded to draw me in as it began to weave together an absorbing story that explored psychology and ethics in a sophisticated manner. In addition to that we have a group of three complex and multi-layered characters, a brilliantly written dual narrative structure, and an air of unpredictability that rarely disappoints.
It was a massively enjoyable read and sometimes difficult to put down. There were many moments where you are made to question the motives of a particular character, or ask yourself what you would do if faced with the same situation as the protagonist. It is without doubt a primarily character driven story, but every other aspect is given a healthy amount of depth.
Jessica is a make-up artist who represents a firm called Beauty Buzz, and she finds out that one of her clients is due to take part in a research study the following day, but is unlikely to attend. On impulse, Jessica decides to take the woman’s place. When she arrives at the study, she is taken into a room and asked to answer a series of questions that appear on a computer screen.
The questions focus on morality, prompting Jessica to face her guilty conscience and reveal some uncomfortable truths, as well as several other aspects of her personality. In the days that follow, she is invited back for another session, and becomes fascinated by the mysterious and elusive Dr Shields, who is leading the study.
Although told at the beginning of the study that she is allowed to withdraw at any point, Jessica is soon consumed by it and before too long, she realises that her life is now in the hands of Dr Shields, whose agenda is unclear. The two end up embroiled in something resembling a game of cat and mouse, until all the secrets finally emerge.
The plot concentrates heavily on the relationship between Jessica and Dr Shields, along with their many interactions. There is a considerable emphasis on psychology as every decision that either character makes is scrutinised. There were some occasional moments where this became a little repetitive, but in general I always wanted to know where Dr Shields’ experiment would lead to next.
Each chapter alternates between the respective viewpoints of those two characters, and I especially loved the way they contrasted. Jessica is written in the first person, and although initially she seems unremarkable, she is very well developed as the story goes on. She is not quite Eleanor from The Good Place, but she definitely has her flaws and it was interesting to see how taking part in the study makes her become more aware of the consequences of her actions.
Dr Shields’ perspective was one of the standout aspects of this book. It is written in the second person, addressing Jessica, and it is done in such a way that makes her come across as quite ruthless and sinister. You do not know how dangerous she is or might turn out to be, but what is clear from a very early stage is that she is calculating and highly methodical.
The most noticeable aspect of Dr Shields’ chapters is the impersonal, clinical language that is used, that gives her both a unique voice and a sense of gravitas. Everything is told in the passive voice, and this is done very effectively to build suspense. I really appreciated how much thought went into crafting every sentence of her narrative.
The other main character in the book is Thomas, and you are often made to wonder where his loyalties lie. He has a complex personality and in several ways the plot eventually begins to revolve around him. I felt that the ending was fairly good, although the resolution did seem a little bit simple in relation to everything that had happened before it.
Although the writing style could not really be described as engaging, I liked it a lot. There was an excellent dynamic between the two narratives and it brought the most out of the plot, allowing a great concept to fulfil its promise. There were some areas where the pace slowed down, but otherwise it was a consuming read.
Overall, this was very well executed book which delivers on creating an original plot and a truly fascinating set of narratives, portraying characters with a fine degree of nuance. The psychology was a real highlight and it held my attention right through to the end, so it is easy to see why these authors have received such praise.
Or in this case, authors! Greer Hendricks previously worked as a writer for the Allure magazine and has had writing published in the New York Times among others. She was then an editor for 20 years.
Sarah Pekkanen is a former investigative journalist and feature writers, who has written several novels, becoming a bestselling author in the process.
An Anonymous Girl is the second of three collaborations so far between the two, with their first being The Wife Between Us. Their most recent, You Are Not Alone, was published in 2020.
A terrific read that often had me striving to find out what was going to happen next. Excellent characters, and a really good use of dual narratives.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐