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REVIEW: Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

Dear Ms. Littlefield,

Your name’s been on my radar for a while now. Alas, I’m teetering on burnout when it comes to post-apocalyptic novels so I’ve consistently given your Harlequin Luna series a pass. This is no fault of your own. It’s all on me. But when I saw your new novel, a YA, on NetGalley, I decided to give it a go. Not post-apocalyptic and a standalone? Sign me up.

They say our house is cursed, and maybe it’s true. It’s been in my mom’s family for almost a hundred years. It was a dress and alterations shop until ten years ago, when my mom and dad poured all their money into restorations so we could live in it. As soon as it was finished, they got divorced and we all moved away. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Clare and her mother have just moved back to Winston, the small beach town where she grew up. It’s a big change from San Francisco, but Clare’s looking forward to it. The drama and temperamental personalities at her old arts-focused high school had been wearing her down.

hanging-by-a-threadBut a pall hangs over Winston. Two years ago, a little boy was killed over the July 4 holiday. One year ago, on the anniversary of his death, a popular cheerleader shared his fate. Now, the July 4 holiday approaches once more and anxiety fills the town. Parents want their children home and safe, for fear that a killer might strike again.

As the new girl, Clare wants to fit in and join the in-crowd. She has a good chance, given that her childhood best friend is one of the most popular girls at school. But when Clare finds herself attracted to Jack, a boy who’s definitely not part of the in-crowd, she finds that not only are her chances at popularity jeopardized, but the secrets of what happened the two previous July 4 holidays are about to unravel.

I found Clare to be a refreshing protagonist. In the paranormal YA genre, we’re so used to kick-butt heroines who fit certain descriptors: they fight hard, they’ve got sassy attitudes; they’re wholly independent and need no one. Clare isn’t anything like that. For one, she’s an aspiring fashion designer who likes making her own clothes. Sometimes she makes them from scratch. Other times she raids flea markets, yard sales, thrift stores, and the like for vintage gear that can be made new. She’s extremely talented and I liked that we had a heroine whose identity did not center on a special ability or her supernatural talent.

The women in Clare’s family have the gift of psychometry: they can access memories by touching clothing. An interesting ability to give a family in the sewing business, isn’t it? Even though Clare’s grandmother told her that the gift would go away if she stopped using it, Clare believes that the gift was given to her for a reason. No matter how small, she tries to make use of the things she learns and make wrongs right. Of course, that all changes when one of her thrifting runs yields a jacket that once belonged to the dead cheerleader.

I thought Hanging by a Thread was strongest when it explored the interpersonal relationships between Clare and other female characters: her mother, her grandmother, her best friend Rachel, the other girls who were her future classmates. The portrayals of the family struck me as particularly genuine. Familial relationships are complicated. Clare and her mother love and support each other but as with all things, it’s not 100% approval. Clare’s mother doesn’t want Clare to go to fashion design school, for example. Clare thinks her mother devotes too much time to work and needs to get out more. Clare is embarrassed by her grandmother’s eccentric reputation in town but adores the woman who encouraged her creativity and taught her about her gift. I loved these things.

On the other hand, Clare’s interactions with the male characters didn’t seem so fleshed out and at times lapsed into cliché. Of course the boy Clare rejects would claim that she slept with him and call her a slut. That outcome was pretty much telegraphed the moment Clare met Jack.

I was a little disappointed by the burgeoning romance between Clare and Jack. I liked that it didn’t hijack the narrative since the focus should be on Clare’s ability and investigation into the events of the last two holidays. But at the same time, I didn’t get a good handle on Jack’s character. Why did he go after Clare so hard and fast? Was it purely because she was the new girl and someone different? Someone who didn’t know his connection to the cheerleader who had died?

I thought the first half of the book was strong. It set things up wonderfully. But as I kept reading, I realized there weren’t a lot of pages left. I couldn’t see how the novel could wrap things up in the remaining space. And while the book did wrap things up, I definitely think the book could have used more pages to do the plot justice. Don’t get me wrong. I thought the plot and resolution was fine. But between Clare’s relationship with Jack and her strained friendship with Rachel, the emotional impact was lost.

While the second half of the novel didn’t live up to the first half’s promise, I found Hanging by a Thread to be a nice change of pace from all the other paranormal YA novels out there. I can always use more mysteries and thrillers in my reading life. Overall, I’d give this one a C+. But flawed book or not, it got me interested in your work and I’ll be checking more of your novels from now on.

My regards,
Jia

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

7 Comments

  1. Kay
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 09:09:28

    The book’s strengths sound up my alley, and your review should let me read it for those with reset expectations for its weaknesses, so thanks! I’ll try the sample, and perhaps wait until the price comes down.

    I’d love to read more books that sound like this one but without the weaknesses.

  2. John
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 09:54:42

    I was so excited to see that you read this, Jia, as I just read this title a few days ago – and came away with about the same problems. Littlefield has an accessible style, and the fashion-descriptions were awesome for someone who likes that stuff (and I am definitely one of those people) because they felt authentic. I do agree, though, that the friendship and romance just weren’t developed enough in the story to do them emotional justice – it felt like the plot was standalone but the character arcs weren’t, and that bothered me a bit.

    Still – I’m glad you enjoyed it, and look forward to seeing if you review more of Littlefield’s work at any point. :)

  3. Jia
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 10:34:24

    @John: I really liked Littlefield’s writing style. And I can see, in the way she structured the book, her mystery-writing background in the way she executed the plot. I’m definitely interested in her other books now.

  4. Estara
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 11:56:40

    Jia, Marie Brennan is releasing a YA contemporary college fantasy – Lies and Prophecy – tomorrow via BVC. As she has been releasing 11 prequel posts to introduce the main characters, it looks like it may develop romance as well ^^. Here’s the link to the prequel snippets, maybe you’d like this?
    http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/tag/lies-and-prophecy/page/2/

    “There are three kinds of lies,” Professor Madison said on the first day of class, right after introducing herself and making sure everyone was in the correct lecture hall. “Lies, damned lies, and prophecy.”

    My eyebrows rose. That wasn’t the sort of thing you expected to hear out of the woman teaching your intro divination course.

  5. Jia
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 12:10:33

    @Estara: Marie Brennan’s writing has generally not worked for me in the past, sorry to say.

  6. Estara
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 13:46:47

    Ah well. I thought the development of the character relationships in the prequel snippets was particularly strong, and you liked that in this book – so I had hopes ^^

  7. Review: Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield | Smexy Books
    Sep 23, 2012 @ 12:52:47

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