Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Review: The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

by Jennifer McMahon
Release Date: April 26, 2022
2022 Gallery/Scout Press
Kindle Edition; 338 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982153952
ASIN: B098441GNT
Audiobook: B099CNNTPN
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

1978: at her renowned treatment center in picturesque Vermont, the brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hildreth, is acclaimed for her compassionate work with the mentally ill. Then one day Gran brings home a child to stay with the family. Iris—silent, hollow-eyed, skittish, and feral—does not behave like a normal girl.

2019: Lizzy Shelley, the host of the popular podcast Monsters Among Us, is traveling to Vermont, where a young girl has been abducted, and a monster sighting has the town in an uproar. She’s determined to hunt it down, because Lizzy knows better than anyone that monsters are real—and one of them is her very own sister.
My Thoughts
The Children on the Hill had a very interesting concept, a story inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, one of my favourite books. The story has a dual timeline, one in which we learn about when Gran brings Iris home and her integration into the family, and the other follows Lizzy Shelley as she hunts for clues about missing girls.  I have a mixed opinion about these dual timelines as one always seems to be better than the other, and in horror novels, it often tends to break up that wonderful tension and suspense that gets built up, something you don't want happening in such a novel. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to its premise.

Dr. Hildreth, the grandmother, kind of takes on the role of the doctor from the Frankenstein novel, and while the author tries to set her up as this kind and generous grandmother who has these toxic and creepy beliefs, it fell really flat for me.  I just found her character to be one-dimensional, and there was little to no character development, something that would make me feel like something was really off with this woman, that would make me want to protect the children, that would make me wonder about her secrets.  The children were somewhat better developed, but that isn't saying much.  To be honest, it wasn't quite hard to figure out what was going on with Violet and Iris and I understood the major plot twist quite early on. Once the secret was revealed, I didn't buy into it as there seemed no reason for the personality changes and what actually happened, it just didn't make sense.

The first part of the novel was the most interesting part as I enjoyed learning about the institution, and I definitely like it when the setting includes a big old building with secrets.  However, the pacing of the story was quite slow, with a lot of descriptions of things that I don't think really enhanced the story.  To me, it seemed like filler stuff that wasn't necessary to the story.  And there was one part of the story narrative where I almost DNF the book as it came out of nowhere and really had no context. The creepy atmosphere slowly gave way to plot points that just didn't make sense or were extremely clumsy in their execution, making it very easy to figure out what was happening.  Everything was laid out for the reader and no thinking was required, no build up or foreshadowing that allows for suspense or that wonderful thrill you get when reading something exciting.  

The Children on the Hill had a great premise and a wonderful setting, but the execution fell flat due to poor character and plot development.  The author had a tendency to tell the reader what was happening rather than use subtle clues and foreshadowing to let them figure it out, and the dual timeline took away a lot of the suspense from the story.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed by this book and would not recommend it to fans who are avid horror readers.  However, as always, you may like this more than I did.