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Book Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

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These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf is an intriguing novel that begins slowly and quickly gains momentum a few chapters in. Things are not always what they seem, and this is exactly what makes it such a good read and so hard to put down.

The story is set in Iowa — but unfortunately it could be any small town in America appearing in the newspaper headlines after being rocked by a big scandal. Allison Glenn is a beautiful and popular teenager who seems to be the perfect student, daughter, and athlete. She is accused of committing a heinous crime and is sent to prison.

Her family is torn apart, and they’ve cut her off. Even her sister Brynn, whom she considered to be a close confidant, won’t visit her or return her letters. Brynn is tormented by Allison’s former friends at high school (those that used to idolize Allison). Ironically, prior to the crime Brynn used to live in Allison’s shadow, and now she is taunted for her connection to her notorious sister. Shortly after Allison’s sentence she goes to live in a nearby town with her grandmother.

On her release from prison, Allison enters a halfway house where she is given a hard time by the other residents because of the nature of the horrible crime she went to jail for. She also tries to make things better with her family at this point, but they too shy away from her. It is easy for readers to judge Allison, the fallen star of the story, and make their own conclusions like everyone else up to this point in the novel. Then the story unravels and becomes very hard to put down.

Slowly, the family dynamics and dysfunction reveal that Allison is not the one dimensional character she is portrayed as early on in the story. There is a disconnect that began long before Allison was send to prison. And Brynn is a dark, complex character whose fragile nature is cause for her to be underestimated on several levels. At the same time a woman named Claire and her young son are somehow connected to the two sisters. Their fate depends on a series of unexpected events that will keep readers on the edge of their seats to the very end of the novel.

The story is told in the voice of four different female narrators. This technique works well for this novel as it helps to create suspense and tension. As the story slowly unravels it becomes obvious that one of the narrators is “unreliable” or not what she seems. There are lots of twists and turns in These Things Hidden, making this novel a really good read.

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