Book Review: 'You Are Not Alone'

Feb 6, 2020

The title of Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s suspenseful new psychological thriller is comforting . . . and sinister: “You are Not Alone.” The first-person protagonist is Shay Miller. She feels herself to be alone. Then she meets strangers who invite her into their exclusive gathering of young women. The group includes the sophisticated Moore sisters, who not only show her how to dress and act, but begin to make her uneasy. There’s something odd going on with them, though neither Shay nor the reader knows yet what it is. The irony is that Shay may have been better off alone, without the sisters in her life.  

The story begins innocently enough. Shay is sharing her New York City apartment with her former boyfriend and his new lady love. Not good, and Shay announced she’s getting out, and also looking for a new job in the city – she’s been downsized.

Meanwhile, as she’s done all her life, she takes refuge and pleasure in her longstanding passion for collecting data and recording them in notebooks. Various numerical entries head Shay’s first-person chapters – a clever authorial device that distinguishes this thriller and defines the central character. Did we know for example that a typical person, man or woman, will have 10 different jobs before the age of 40? That more than half of Americans, particularly young people believe in love at first sight? That the odds of having three children in a family, all girls, is 21%. 

Shay may be a loner, but she’s always connected to charts, numbers, percentages. As the opening scene puts it, “Data don’t lie.” Cut to scene two: Shay is alone on a subway platform, waiting for the next train. She grows uncomfortable because a man at the end of the platform starts moving toward her. She’s almost in panic mode, but sees she’s Not Alone. There’s a young woman about her own age at the opposite end of the platform. The train roars in, and . . .  Shay cries “No,” but the woman leaps to her death, leaving behind a shiny necklace, which Shay picks up.

She’s stunned. But also curious. Who was this woman, and why was she so desperate? The researcher in her – it’s her training as a data analyst – drives her to find out. Yes, she is a bit paranoid. As the police question her, she manages to get the woman’s name, Amanda. And then out of a sense of being a guilty witness, Shay decides to go to Amanda’s funeral, making up a story about how they knew one another. There she meets Amanda’s close friends, the beautiful, charismatic Moore sisters, Cassandra and Jane. (An insider hello at this point to Austen fans who know that Jane Austen’s sister was named Cassandra.).

The Moore sisters, anxious about Shay’s interest in Amanda, an ER nurse, launch their own investigation. Who is Shay? How much does she know about their group, a diverse gathering of seven women – smart, proactive and, as it emerges, dedicated to vigilante justice. Shay, deliriously happy at their attention, doesn’t see that she is becoming a threat to them. For sure, she’ll no longer be alone because they’ll be tracking her with Amanda’s necklace: it has a GPS. 

Hendricks and Pekkanen shift back and forth in time – days, months, years – incrementally adding to the back stories of each of the women in the group. As they drive the narrative forward in present time by way of Shay’s unknowing first-person observations.    

It’s white knuckle time, folks. Hendricks and Pekkanen are pros.