The Wrong Girl, by Robert. W. Kirby
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Today, I’m excited to be reviewing The Wrong Girl, by Robert. W. Kirby
So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
The story is primarily set in Edinburgh, 2019, as photographer Alex Clayton struggles with re-occurring nightmares about a traumatic past memory.
We are then periodically taken back to Alex’s past (1988 – Kent), after his mother has passed away and his life slowly starts to fall apart. He soon befriends Sheryl, a kind and compassionate girl, and seeks to join her friendship circle. However, in order to do so, he is required to pass some mysterious initiation tests concocted by the fellow boys of the group. After passing several of these horrendous tests, Alex eventually decides to give the boys a taste of their own medicine, however, things do not go to plan.
Back in the present (2019), we learn about Alex’s life as a photographer, along with the lives of the other members of the group from the 1980s. Here, we see how Alex’s flashbacks and terrifying nightmares eventually force him to act, to call the group back together, to go over what really happened all those years ago.
The main question asked is ‘What did happen to Sheryl?’
As there are many characters whose point of views are covered in this story (both past and present), I’ve chosen to only focus on Alex, his wife, and (since the story centres around her) Sheryl.
Forty-five year old Alex Clayton is a sensitive photographer, who dislikes confrontation and suffers from horrific nightmares which keep him up all night. After so long of trying to manage them, he cannot wait any longer and seizes an opportunity to face his demons. As I learned more about Alex’s past, I came to see him as deeply troubled, someone who has endured a lot of heartache and abuse over the years. I thought his efforts to uncover the truth about what happened to his friend Sheryl were brave, although risky. Although there were certainly times when I disagreed with Alex’s actions, for the most part, I thought he was in the right for trying to repair things.
Natalie, Alex’s caring wife proves to be rather inquisitive as she seeks to understand what happened with Alex and Sheryl all those years ago. As a partner in an accountancy firm, Natalie appears as a strong and independent woman, with a curious and intelligent mind. Seeing her worry over her partner allowed me to better empathise with her. Her main goal in the story is to seek answers from Alex’s family as to what really happened to Alex’s childhood friend, Sheryl. Overall, I came to really like Natalie as a character and hoped that she would get the answers she sought.
Finally, we come to Sheryl, Alex’s childhood friend, whom he desperately wanted to impress all those years ago. Sheryl was a sweet, kind, and fun-loving young girl, who is described in such a way that she almost appears angelic in Alex’s eyes. Although we don’t come to learn too much about Sheryl until later on in the story, she appeared to me as the epitome of innocence and girlhood, snatched away by the cruelties of the wider world. In addition, she was always kind to Alex, doing her best to protect him from the cruelty of the others in her friendship group. To me, she was someone to admire, the type of person to treat others fairly and without judgement.
There were numerous elements of The Wrong Girl which helped to round out the story and make it memorable. Below are some of the key elements I identified whilst reading.
- The characters are complex, with their own hidden secrets and personal dilemmas.
- I liked how we got to see what each character’s life had turned out like after so many years spent apart.
- The author did well, feeding the information about what happened all those years ago to the reader, bit by bit. Keeping key parts of information from the reader until later helped to maintain the suspense of the novel.
- The story dips between Alex’s past and present, slowly allowing the reader to piece the puzzle of Alex’s traumatic memories together. The author executed this well, and also allowed us a glimpse into the lives of the other individuals who were present in Alex’s past friendship group.
- There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie between the older friends, despite most of them not having seen each other for around thirty years.
- Sensory descriptions are used well, to create a vivid picture of the natural environments which dominate the novel.
- The tension was palpable, keeping me on the edge of my seat as I clicked through the digital pages of the ebook, needing to find out what happened.
- There were a few shocking twists which I did not see coming toward the end of the story. These particular twists completely changed my understanding of past events and had me in awe. I’d recommend reading this book for these great twists alone.
The only thing which I disliked a little was the frequent switches between points of view as these were often just separate paragraphs without headings to indicate the change in character perspective. Both past and present perspectives shift considerably within chapters, especially halfway through the novel. While this format worked well for the most part, I do still feel that having subheadings to indicate the change in perspective would be helpful.
Whilst reading, one particular quote stood out to me.
‘What he craved, more than anything, was to drift into a deep, dreamless sleep; a proper sleep where his mind emptied and his brain switched off.’
While I found this quote to be relatable to my own life, I also feel that it emphasized Alex’s core dilemma rather well. It demonstrates how deeply our pasts can affect us, causing us to agonise over events until they consume our entire being.
The Wrong Girl proved to be a dark, gripping read which discusses the secrets one group of friends has kept for over thirty years. It kept me hooked from start to finish, offering up several unexpected twists which caught me off guard, alongside featuring characters who were rich and complex.
Themes included: the past, loss, friendship, secrets, and the need to prove oneself to gain a sense of acceptance and belonging.
My Rating: 5 stars.
Recommended to: lovers of dark thrillers, with many unexpected twists.
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