By Jennifer Fawcett
Rating: 4 Stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.93
Genre: Paranormal Mystery / Thriller / Horror
Publication Date: February 22nd 2022
Format Read: Ebook
Goodreads Summary: A woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.
Few in sleepy Sumner’s Mills have stumbled across the Octagon House hidden deep in the woods. Even fewer are brave enough to trespass. A man had killed his wife and two young daughters there, a shocking, gruesome crime that the sleepy upstate New York town tried to bury. One summer night, an emboldened fourteen-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into the Octagon House. Clare came out, but a piece of Abby never did.
Twenty years later, an adult Clare receives word that Abby has attempted suicide at the Octagon House and now lies in a coma. With little to lose and still grieving after a personal tragedy, Clare returns to her roots to uncover the darkness responsible for Abby’s accident.
Content Warnings (highlight over below line to view):
suicide, bipolar disorder, mental illness, cancer
Thank you to Edelweiss for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
This review contains mentions of suicide
Beneath the Stairs is Jennifer Fawcett’s debut novel about a woman named Clare who once went into an abandoned house, dubbed Octagon House due to it’s shape, and had her life altered forever. The story alternates between Clare’s current perspective, her memories of going to the house as a 13 year old girl, as well as the perspectives of other people who lived in the house through the 1900s. Clare is drawn back into her old town when her childhood best friend, Abby, goes back to the Octagon House to die by suicide. Abby ends up being rescued and taken to the ICU for treatment, which is when Clare arrives to see her despite their lack of communication during the 20 years between their friendship ending and the present day.
I thought the book handled flashbacks really really well. They were timed in places that added to the mystery without giving much away in advance, and everything that happened felt like it made sense within the grander scheme of the story. You were able to guess the big reveal about a chapter before it actually got revealed, but it wasn’t a guarantee that what you thought was correct. It’s really difficult to have flashback reveals that are well executed, and I think Fawcett handled the balance of present day Clare needing to figure things out, and us as readers needing to figure things out really well.
Clare’s character was well developed in that I knew why she behaved the way she did, but I didn’t always agree that that’s how her character would have felt. I don’t think she was developed into a relatable character, but she did feel real, which is the most important. I enjoyed reading from Clare’s perspective and thought she was the correct narrator for this story.
I am a big fan of psychological thriller books, but I rarely take the foray into the world of paranormal horror. I don’t actually remember what inspired me to request this book for review, but I suppose the element of psychological thriller overpowered my reluctance to read anything that had to do with ghosts. I also wasn’t sure if it was true paranormal activity based on the description, or if everything could be well explained and the characters just thought they were ghosts.
To be honest I’m not sure if that was well wrapped up– it was almost as if there were two different plots that caused two different problems for these characters, and the author was okay with letting them be somewhat tied together but also separate. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the book made sense and I think Fawcett tied the pieces together enough that most people would be happy with the way it turned out, but it is the reason this book went from a 4.5-5 star read down to a solid 4 star read for me. I like books where things end in a 100% explainable way, and so maybe this just wasn’t the book for me!
The other aspect of this book that made me slightly wary was the way Fawcett handled mental health. We learn that Abby suffered from bipolar disorder that seemed to arise at the same time as the childhood Octagon House debacle. She hears voices in her head telling her to kill herself, and similarly to what I wrote in the above paragraph, it’s never fully clear whether she is actually mentally ill or if she is being haunted. I don’t know enough about BPD to say if the way she wrote about Abby’s mental health was “correct”, but I would have liked to see a little more development there. Abby’s parents treated her like a child incapable of doing anything (also unclear if this was 100% due to her BPD) but Clare seemed to think that this was unnecessary, so it wasn’t the position of the book that people with BPD could do nothing. I wouldn’t say it was handled badly, I just once again would have liked a bigger distinction between mental illness and being haunted.
On the whole I really liked this book. I thought it was fun, well paced, and had a narrator that was different from the traditional psychological thriller main character girl. I would definitely recommend you check it out when this book comes out on the 22nd!