Title: What You Hide
Author: Natalie D Richards
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller
Date of Publication: 4th December, 2018
Word/Page Count: 384 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
A new pulse-pounding romantic thriller from the author of We All Fall Down and Six Months Later
Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.
Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.
Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…
Well. This is awkward. I had a whole post planned about the issues of marketing a book correctly and outlining what this book SHOULD be promoted under, but when I went to link up to Goodreads, it appears that’s been updated! So, kudos to the publishing team for clarifying the synopsis and genre category for the public, it’s just unfortunate that my reading experience was rather different. I realize things are subject to change in the publication process, so I genuinely appreciate that the publisher obviously took feedback on board and made some changes because going in with a particular set of expectations and being met with something different is usually going to disappoint.
On Netgalley, I saw a new addition under the ‘Teens & YA’ category (with no other subgenres listed) written by an author known for her YA horror (I’ve read and loved her previous book One Was Lost) with this eerie cover that makes you think of bloodshed. It was a no-brainer clicking into that entry. The original synopsis which is still on Netgalley for posterity is as below:
Mallory didn’t want to leave home, but it wasn’t safe to stay. So she sleeps at her best friend’s house and spends the rest of her time at the library, doing her online schoolwork and figuring out what comes next. Because she’s not going live in fear like her mother.
Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service for a stunt he pulled, but he likes the work. And it’s the perfect escape from his parents’ pressure to excel at school, at ice hockey, at everything. Especially after he meets Mallory.
Then there is a tragic death at the library. Suddenly, what was once a sanctuary turns sinister. Ghostly footprints, strange scratching sounds, scrawled messages on bulletin boards and walls… Mallory and Spencer don’t know who or what is responsible, but one thing is for sure:
They are not as alone—or as safe—as they thought.
This sets up a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT mindset when viewing the book – the book’s current Goodreads listing highlights immediately that it’s a romantic thriller and of the various genres it’s listed under, horror is nowhere to be found. The current synopsis also focuses on the romantic relationship with Spencer wanting to see Mallory and Mallory wanting to fly under the radar, but reluctantly falling for his charm. But the blurb that I read focused on Mallory and Spencer as individuals rather than their romantic arc; plus the entire section describing the events at the library goes from mildly alarming with sinister events to emphasizing how it terrifying it is with mention of death and ghostly phenomena.
I’m pointing this out because I want to make it clear that What You Hide isn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I felt let down because I went in thinking I was going to experience another chilling horror romp and be scared to sleep at night, but ended up with a fairly typical YA romance and more family drama than chill & thrills.
If you see this cover and think that it’s going to be a horror story, then it isn’t the book for you because there is hardly ANY of the ghostly shenanigans that’s alluded to and in the brief few scenes where Mallory and Spencer are present when hauntings occur, they basically just run and hide. That’s actually pretty sensible behavior I’m not used to seeing in teenage protagonists, but as a reader, it makes for a dull experience. I would think ‘Finally, the action is getting started!’ and then it would lead nowhere with barely a hint of an adrenaline rush.
The romance is definitely not my cup of tea as I didn’t feel the connection between Mallory and Spencer. I know teenage hormones run rampant, but Mallory’s situation was so dire that I didn’t quite believe her letting herself open up to Spencer and swooning over his good looks, or that Spencer would be so captivated by Mallory, especially when you consider that due to being homeless, she wasn’t able to maintain her hygiene. I don’t mean to be catty, it’s not something I would have thought about myself and I certainly don’t mean to judge, but Mallory herself brings up being worried about how she doesn’t smell good and wearing dirty clothing. I just don’t think a realistic teenage boy who’s rich and handsome would be crushing on a girl in Mallory’s circumstances. I would’ve loved for the book to focus on building a friendship between them first because friends-to-lovers would have been more believable and satisfying.
However the abusive home situation that Mallory has fled is the main heart of the book and I think the author handled it pretty well. It was genuinely hard to read the scenes with her stepfather, who came off as malicious and terrifying without straying into over-the-top moustache-twirling villainy. I feel like a lot of times, abuse is only recognized when it’s brutal and physical, and the more subtle emotional stranglehold that Charlie wielded was painfully real and all the more horrifying in how nobody believed Mallory because she couldn’t point to any bruises or broken bones.
Overall, this wasn’t the book for me and not one I would normally have picked up, but for readers who want a touch more gritty realism and darkness in their contemporary or enjoy coming-of-age arcs with teenagers struggling to deal with problems at home, this would hit the spot.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed a digital copy free from Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.