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Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Synopsis: In a town where appearance means everything, how deep beneath the surface will Clare dig to uncover a murderer?

Summer is the best part of the year in Winston, California, and the Fourth of July is the highlight of the season. People consider themselves lucky to live in the quaint, serene beachside town, and native Clare Knight, now a city girl, feels doubly lucky to be moving back there a week before the July festivities kick off.

But the perfect town Clare remembers has changed, and everyone is praying that this summer will be different from the last two—that this year’s Fourth of July festival won’t see one of their own vanish without a trace, leaving no leads and no suspects. The media are in a frenzy predicting a third disappearance, but the town depends on tourist dollars, so the residents of Winston are trying desperately to pretend nothing’s wrong.

And they’re not the only ones hiding something.

Clare has been blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a gift: she can see people’s pasts when she touches their clothes. And since she’s a seamstress who redesigns vintage clothing, her visions are frequent—and usually unwanted. When she stumbles across a denim jacket that once belonged to Amanda Starvos, last year’s Fourth of July victim, Clare sees her perfect town begin to come apart at the seams.

Two mysterious murders, a risky romance, friendships shrouded in secrets, and magnificent narration. Who wouldn’t want to read Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield?

The murder-mystery plot is what drives this novel. After Clare’s love of fashion and ability to learn people’s secrets by touching their clothes is established, Clare immediately gets involved in the murders that have made the hometown she has just moved back to a much less safe place than it used to be. After just a few days of being back in town, Clare has her most powerful vision to date when she touches a denim jacket. Clare is able to place the vision as Amanda Starvos’s. From the night she died.

From then on, Clare continues to have visions about those close to her and about people in town she barely knows. Jack was once extremely angry when he was wearing the shirt he first kisses Clare in. Rachel might not be the innocent, perfect girl she pretends to be. Could it be that Jack and Rachel are involved in the murders? Or is it someone else entirely?

The answers unfold through fast-paced scenes and gripping descriptions. Although Clare is missing the coming-of-age character arc I am so used to seeing in the narrators of young adult novels, her narration makes up for what she lacks in character. Particularly when Clare has a vision, her emotions are expertly described. Littlefield’s use of fragments fits perfectly with the way Clare experiences her visions: disjointed from her life and the person's life she is seeing and desperate to make connections. The narration really is what makes this novel excellent: “Regret, certainly—a part of me wished I’d never brought up her name. Suspicion—wondering what Amanda had really meant to him and whether he’d had anything to do with what happened to her. And underneath it, that thread of attraction I couldn’t ignore, even when I told myself this was a dangerous game to play.”

Since Clare is more of a static character than a narrator should be, Clare’s mother serves as the dynamic character who makes up for Clare’s lack of change. As an accountant, Clare’s mother wants her life to look just like the numbers: neat and normal. She doesn’t want her mother and daughter to have visions, and she hates that her divorce puts a stain on her otherwise white life. But Clare’s mother learns to accept that she cannot control everything and work toward something she has not had in awhile: happiness.

The best way to test the merit of a book is to see if you can put it down. I could not put Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield down, and I am sure you won’t be able to either.


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