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1.5 stars rounded up to 2 stars because I really liked many of the elements around Riley…
These 4 dolls, kidnapped and trapped in their “master’s” underground lair, finally break free at a terrible cost to themselves. They return to their families no longer 12 year old but child-like adults. As Riley tries to adjust to life as a normal woman she can’t escape the scars of their captivity and escape. Wilson, her next door neighbor, becomes her oasis in a broken life where everyone expects her to live the way they think is best.
I absolutely loved the powerful opening and the first 20% of the book. The setup was powerful and I settled in to read what I thought was going to be a moving rendition of a rather saturated trope. I quite liked this premise as I’m a fan of extreme emotional duress and reading about the powerful ways we can overcome such circumstances. I read these kidnapped girl stories any time I come across them and as a whole find most very good. When you focus on the individual journey it makes what is common unique! That was not the case here 😦 I really wanted it to be and with that powerful opening I thought this was for sure a 5 star book, the more I read the more stars I lost. In reality this is a no star book. It needs so much work, so much development and re-writing… There were special moments in the story that “won” back stars even though a complete story they did not make. I so wanted to give Riley the benefit of the doubt but the writing kept crashing and burning…
The first thing you ought to know is that this books gives readers an education on masturbation, and pleasuring one’s partner without penetration. If I hadn’t committed to read and review this book I probably would have DNFed it. These passages were pages and pages long and quite repetitive. It seriously made me uncomfortable. I know the character is 19 years old and is not hurting anyone… but this was too gratuitous. I personally know what sex is and don’t need constant graphic representations, that’s why I read YA fiction. And in no way were these scenes tasteful.
The sex scenes were not the only “plot” elements of a repetitive nature. There is this constant whining that everyone is trying to “cage” her and keep her from healing her own way. That the only way she can heal is if she gets to do whatever she wants without consequences because she was a victim! This was so harped on I wanted to scream. The simple fact is she is 19 years old. She can leave at any time. She had 3 friends and a boyfriend who would let her stay with them. She didn’t have to go back to her “terrible parents” and yet she continued to do so! She also made no effort to act like an adult or bargain with her parents. She never tried to sit them down and explain to them how she felt. When she did finally scream at her mother how she really felt it was so contrived a moment that I winced. And the ridiculous way her parents reacted was so outrageous it was not to be believed.
To me this should have been a slice of life sort of story where events are less extreme and more like reality (after the inciting event, of course). I wanted to see her try different things with her parents to work it out with them. Yes, she would be sneaking out. Yes, she would stay over at her “sisters” houses overnight. She’s 19 years old after all! But not once was this fact mentioned in all her conversations with her parents! I wanted to see a girl slowly spiral out of control and it was because of the people who loved her: her parents, brother, boyfriend and sisters that she made the effort needed for her to save herself. Instead I got a hodge podge of research that made no sense jumbled together. (This was especially evident when the “old doc” and Wilson quoted each other a couple times when talking to Riley!! At least re-write what Wilson said so it wasn’t almost the same words…)
When someone deals with something traumatic and aren’t getting help in a healthy way they try different things until one works then they do that over and over until it looses power (which takes some months at the very least) then they move on to other experiences that could give them the same emotions… With Riley she’d randomly do things supposedly in the name of “feeling something” but then she’d suddenly do something else. If people cut themselves and it works they keep cutting themselves. If they are nymphos then they have casual sex with WHOEVER will take them. If they don’t eat then they eat and purge (this was one of the things she “tried” that made zero sense to me and was abandoned after mentioning it once – to top it off it was in contradiction to all she said in the beginning about wanting to eat since her master controlled her diet!!)
I don’t want to go into anything more specific because I don’t want to ruin the story so here is one comment I made when I was 30% through the book: “Unfortunately this just got very contrived! You spent 7 years with a guy playing dress up dolls with you but supposedly you’re “playing a game” with a reporter? And suddenly we’re learning she resented her little brother for replacing her? I don’t buy it!!” And of course this line about resenting her brother is never mentioned again!! Nor is the playing with the reporter deal. Riley became this grab bag of reactions that made no sense together in the same person… Part of the problem was the constant stream of narrative style all coming from Riley and only occasionally broken up by Wilson. Wilson’s POV actually made the book readable otherwise I would most definitely have DNFed it. He was quite lovely even if he was as random as Riley…
I realized that I didn’t believe Riley’s narrative… She’s like a kitchen sink where all the thoughts got dumped in together when they should have been spread over all the girls. I felt like there was a mommy issue at hand here too. Three different fathers were all made to look like heroes and rather touching ones at that… but the only mother in the book was an over reactive monster of a woman who could not have raised Welly to be the lovely little boy he was…
A much better story would have followed all 4 girl’s POVs. As we went back and forth between them and with the author ideas spread 4 ways we would have gotten a much better story. A series could have still been realized as we stopped at huge moments in this story to transition into another book. (Like what happened to Kylie as one break…)
Layla was a rockstar to me – I so wanted to hear the internal dialogue that she used to keep going and I wanted to know how her struggles were different from Riley’s, Kylie’s and Adalyn’s. I found Riley to be the instigator of what happened to Kylie and it sickened me that she felt no guilt about that girl… I would have liked to read the reasoning from the girl’s POV of what she did… Adalyn too was an intriguing character, how was her dad’s treatment different from Riley’s parents… When “forced” to develop these as part of the story instead of as a contrast to Riley it truly makes Riley seem ridiculous in her thoughts and actions. I was also terribly disappointed there wasn’t more that happened with the “old doc” that would portray therapy in the proper light. He could have easily been a go between with Riley and her parents if she had only been honest with him.
The old man smiled at her. “You don’t have to say anything at all. I just figured that you wouldn’t want to waste your parents’ money. Or, I thought that maybe you would be willing to talk to me. Since you were so willing to talk to the news.”
“Everyone has something broken inside of them, Riley. We all just wear it differently.”
“Hate is a thing that you have to holdfast to. It’s not like love or joy. Those just come along, and you can’t force them. Hate is fascinating because it can just drift away into the ether if you let it.”
“Maybe we’re both broken.”
“Maybe everyone is broken.”
I scoffed. “Why should I believe that I’m the thing that can make her happy?”
“Because she tells you that you are,” he stated like I was stupid. “You don’t get to decide if you make her happy or not.”
He smiled when he got to me. “I would love to spend the day with my sons going on a wild goose chase for a toad. This is going to be a special day for you when you look back on it. I’d love to be a part of it.”
“Why do you think I’m in love?”
He stared at me like I was an idiot. “Well, we can start with the obvious if you want.” With a point to my full hands, he said, “We just spent almost three hours going from store to store so you could find her a toad. Tell me why.”
I’ll save you the trouble and quote the best lines from the book…
BOTTOM LINE: A Hot Mess of Potential, Wasted.
Thanks to NetGalley and Curiosity Quills Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.