Welcome to one of the stops on the Raincoast Books tour for Canadian author Eileen Cook‘s latest young adult novel, The Hanging Girl! Read on for my thoughts on the novel as well as a special Q&A that the wonderful author herself participated in!
Skye Thorn has given tarot card readings for years, and now her psychic visions are helping the police find the town’s missing golden girl. It’s no challenge—her readings have always been faked, but this time she has some insider knowledge. The kidnapping was supposed to be easy—no one would get hurt and she’d get the money she needs to start a new life. But a seemingly harmless prank has turned dark, and Skye realizes the people she’s involved with are willing to kill to get what they want and she must discover their true identity before it’s too late.
Eileen Cook’s last released YA novel, With Malice, was met with solid reviews and great reception from the YA reader and mystery lover crowd. I had the luck of getting to read and review With Malice, and was delighted to see Eileen focus more in the mystery/suspense genre (a genre which I particularly enjoy!). With The Hanging Girl, the author strongly continues in the mystery genre with an even twistier, more complex, layered, exciting- and surprising- story.
At the core of the story is our protagonist, high school student Skye Thorn. Daughter of a single mom (who is a self-professed psychic), Skye has used tarot reading and her own ability to read people well to fake classmates out (and make money) with her own so-called ‘psychic’ and tarot reading abilities. Then, in a quick turn, readers find out that Skye has gotten herself with involved in…a kidnapping scheme with a supposed big payout and no repercussions. Yes, Skye has become inextricably and dangerously- due to reasons which will reveal themselves- involved in a seriously unnerving, twisted kidnapping plot. And readers, let me just say that the author does a wonderful job of throwing major curveballs in how Skye’s involvement with the kidnapping- and the supposedly ‘simple’ kidnapping job itself- turns around. The Hanging Girl is one of those hard-to-put-down reads- I actually read it in one big gulp (staying up very, very late into the night) transfixed by this unusual, suspenseful story. Skye herself is not the most sympathetic of characters, but she holds major interest- and experiencing the story- especially as big reveals happen- through her first-person narrative makes it all the more intriguing and edge-of-your-seat. While a tiny bit rushed toward the end of the novel, my enjoyment with the story was absolutely held from start to finish. With The Hanging Girl and With Malice, I think Eileen has more than shown herself a very strong, exciting writer in the YA mystery genre.
Overall, a solidly plotted mystery with genuinely shocking moments, The Hanging Girl bests With Malice as an even darker, more surprising, sophisticated mystery entry. Readers who adored With Malice, and/or readers who have enjoyed novels such as Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving, Mindy Mejia’s Everything You Want Me to Be, or the work of Megan Abbott might especially enjoy sinking into The Hanging Girl.
Q&A Time with Eileen!
Q: I am always interested in hearing about the research that goes into a book! In With Malice, the protagonist deals with post-accident amnesia and recovery- areas in which you have personal experience given your past career in counseling patients recovering from major trauma and injuries. For The Hanging Girl, what was the preparation for writing the character of Skye and the plot focus on tarot reading and psychic abilities? Did you have the opportunity to research and/or interview practicing psychics and tarot readers?
A: One of the things I enjoy best about the writing process is the chance to do research. I love learning things. Sometimes this can become a procrastination technique (I also can spend hours online chasing random bits of information.) However, in this case I felt if I was going to write a character who read tarot then I felt it was something that I needed to understand. Especially because reading the future was so important to Skye and her mom. I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it—but I did like learning about the history of tarot and the meanings of different cards.
A lot of what makes for a good tarot card reader is like being a counsellor. Counsellors are always listening not just to what you say, but also what you don’t say. We’re paying attention to body language. For example, if you cross your arms and scowl as I’m saying something, I get the idea that you either disagree with me, or have strong feelings about what I’ve said. A psychic is often doing the same thing, paying attention to how you react and moving their reading in that direction.
I also went to about a half a dozen different psychics to have them do a reading for me. I compared what they said to what I’d learned at a conference put on by The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. They’re a group of people who use science to investigate various topics— including psychics. The session I went to covered how easy it is to fool someone into believing you have psychic ability. I found that fascinating and filed away the information knowing it would be useful for a character and because I hadn’t realized how easy it could be to take advantage of someone who wants to believe.
Thank you so much for your time, Eileen!
Don’t forget: you can check out the other stops on the blog tour this week!
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog post. All opinions and comments are my own. The interview with the author was kindly organized by Raincoast Books.