When it comes to quality thrills and carefully paced suspense, author Chevy Stevens has it all. Following the release of her wildly popular book, THAT NIGHT, Stevens has returned with THOSE GIRLS, her most chilling novel yet. Set in western Canada, it follows the Campbell sisters --- Jess, Courtney and Dani --- as they overcome unimaginable horrors, only to have their past track them down in a bitter final showdown.
When we meet the Campbell sisters, it is easy to see that life has not been good to them. Their mother has passed away, and they have no one but their violent, alcoholic father, who spends most of his time on the road, punctuated by brief but explosive visits home. Although their struggles have brought them together, the reader cannot help but feel sorry for their miserable situation. Still, they do have dreams that seem to keep them going: 17-year-old Dani is in a committed relationship, 16-year-old Courtney sings and plays guitar, and 14-year-old Jess dreams of being a photographer.
At the book’s opening, the girls are waiting for their father to come home from another work cycle. Stevens does a remarkable job of immersing the reader in the tense, highly charged atmosphere as they wait to see in what kind of mood their father will return. True to form, when he arrives he is absolutely plastered. His cruelty is terrifying, switching on and off with no warning, and reaching full potential just as quickly as it begins. We learn then that Courtney has been fooling around with a married man --- one of her father’s friends, to be exact. He is furious and, strengthened by the alcohol pumping through his veins, hits Courtney with a hot frying pan before dragging her upstairs and attempting to drown her in the toilet. As Jess and Dani fight to save their sister, they too fall victim to their father’s blows, until Jess retrieves the family gun and shoots him.
"This is no easy read, as Stevens spares no detail when it comes to the brutalities endured by her characters, but I found that I could not put the book down. If you are looking for a riveting mix of survival, redemption and sheer terror, THOSE GIRLS is not to be missed."
Just like that, Courtney has been saved, and it seems that their troubles are over. But then there is the issue of the body. Fearing foster homes or jail time, the girls hide the corpse under a pig trough on the ranch and flee in the night, taking only the necessities. While an older reader may lament their decision to run, Stevens writes convincingly from the perspective of these three young, terrified girls and makes all other options seem impossible.
Of course, if their father’s death was the last of their worries, this would hardly qualify as a thriller. When the girls are only a few hours out of town, their car dies and they are picked up by two young men, Brian and Gavin, who offer to help them. They seem harmless enough, but there is a coldness in their eyes that spooks the girls (and the reader). Still, they have no other options and so must ride into town with them, taking refuge on their parents’ land in a tent. Even while they are free from their father’s attacks, the air never fully clears and danger always seems imminent. One night, Brian and Gavin take Jess, Courtney and Dani out and, after plying them with beer and marijuana, attempt to force themselves upon them. Although the girls try to play it off, it is clear that the boys have a violent tendency and no patience for morality. Later that night, they come to the sisters’ tent and beat them before tying them up and bringing them to a remote warehouse on the outskirts of town.
What follows is not for the faint of heart. Stevens’ descriptions of what happen in the warehouse are unflinching, visceral and positively bloodcurdling. After five long days, the girls escape, but to what? Their rights, safety and spirits have been violated, and again they must flee. Fortunately, the town has one good Samaritan in the form of a burly biker --- a blessedly pleasant image amidst all the horror. He connects them to a friend in Vancouver who helps them begin new lives as Jamie, Crystal and Dallas.
In a disturbing twist, there is one part of their past they will never be able to shake, as Jamie soon learns she is pregnant. Although Crystal and Dallas cannot fathom living with a reminder of their pain, Jamie is unable to give up her daughter, and the trio becomes a foursome. The narrative then takes a leap 18 years into the future where we learn that while Jamie and Dallas have mostly recovered, Crystal --- who endured the worst of the attacks --- has turned to a life of nonstop partying. Her pain is tangible and affects all of those around her, particularly her niece, Skylar, who knows nothing of her family’s past. One day, her depression takes hold of her, and she disappears, beginning the next horrifying chapter in the sisters’ lives.
To reveal any more of the plot would be an absolute disservice to Stevens’ brilliant writing, so I will simply say that the girls finally confront their pasts once and for all --- and the result is explosive. This is no easy read, as Stevens spares no detail when it comes to the brutalities endured by her characters, but I found that I could not put the book down. If you are looking for a riveting mix of survival, redemption and sheer terror, THOSE GIRLS is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 9, 2015