The Children on the Hill
By Jennifer McMahon
Genre: Gothic Horror
QUILTBAG Main Character: Questionable (character’s sexuality never stated outright)
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
Main Character of Color: No
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: 1978. Violet and her brother Eric live on the grounds of a renowned treatment center with their brilliant grandmother, Dr. Helen Hildreth. Although they are somewhat isolated, they’ve always had a good life, full of books,stray animals, and, most importantly, monsters. Monsters in movies, in books, even their own monster club. Everything changes, however, the day Dr. Hildreth brings home a girl, Iris, whom their grandmother claims has come from the treatment center. Iris isn’t talking, and the mystery of who she is will change everything.
2019. Lizzy Shelley is a monster hunter with her own popular podcast, blog, and a guest spot on a TV series. Although she’s spent her life searching, she’s never seen any of the monsters she researches. When a series of missing girls lead her to Vermont, Lizzy might have finally found the monster she’s been looking for, the monster that will bring her closure and, maybe, save her sister.
A Little Disclaimer:
I was given an ARC from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This in no way altered my opinion of the book nor my review.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
I am a sucker for Frankenstein stories. I can’t remember when the chokehold Mary Shelley’s iconic horror novel took hold, but it’s been here a long time and shows no signs of going away. I’ll take any retelling of it I can find. I’ve watched movie adaptations, read manga, binged TV shows for one single episode. If it has a hint of Frankenstein in it, I’ve either watched it or am willing to. So when I was given Children on the Hill and saw that it was inspired by Mary Shelley, of course, I had to grab it. I thought I knew what to expect from this book but it absolutely blew me away. It may be on my list of best Frankenstein retellings of all time.
Vi (Violet) is living with her grandmother and her brother, Eric on the property of a renowned mental treatment facility in 1978. After her parents’ death in a car crash left them in their grandmother’s care, Vi and Eric have had only each other and their grandmother for human companionship. That all changes when Iris walks in one evening with their grandmother behind. Iris, they learn, has come from the treatment center and has been non-verbal for her stay. Vi at once is suspicious of her grandmother’s story. The treatment center doesn’t take anyone under 18 years of age, so what is this child doing with them? Despite her misgivings, however, Vi quickly accepts Iris into their lives and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about her.
Meanwhile, forty years later, Lizzy Shelley is chasing monsters. She has been for most of her life. With her popular podcast and a guest spot on a TV show that’s made her almost a household name, she’s seen and heard a lot of strange things. But she still hasn’t found the monster she’s looking for. When a string of disappearances all involving local monster lore grab Lizzy’s attention, she thinks she might have finally located the thing that’s been missing from her life for a very long time. The question is: is the monster able to be saved? Does it even want to?
One of the themes of Frankenstein is the question of what makes a monster and what makes a person. Is the person who created the creature worse than the creature itself? More importantly, can a monster, a creature made in darkness, desperation, and hate ever be something other than evil? The Children on the Hill explores these same themes, drawing from monster myths to tell us a deeply human story.
What made this book work so well for me was watching a plot I mostly predicted come around to surprise me. The last two pages of this book left me blown away because I absolutely loved the surprise twist. But while the plotting and pacing are perfect, the characters are what keep this story dear to my heart. The way that they play with our expectations of tropes, the way they all feel so human, even the monster whose POV we get only a handful of times, all of them feel as real and as complex as anyone you might know in your real life.
While this book isn’t out until later this year, I suggest preordering it now. It’s an addictive read that I wasn’t able to put down. I cannot wait to pick up more of this author’s works!
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Children on the Hill? Leave a comment telling me your favorite monster. You can also find me on Instagram @booked.with.grace and on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@ynbushehri) for editing my posts.