In This Might Hurt, Nat Collins goes to a remote island to save her younger sister Kit from a cult. I’m a sucker for thrillers involving sisters, and cults are prime material for a thriller. I still remember being disturbed by how cult leaders feed on people’s vulnerabilities when I read that Sweet Valley High novel where Jessica Wakefield’s twin sister and friends have to save her from one.
This Might Hurt starts off as a fairly solid thriller, if a bit slow-moving at times. The story is told from three perspectives: Nat, Kit, and an unnamed girl who grew up in an abusive household. I loved the story about Nat and Kit’s relationship — their loving yet complicated relationships with their mother and with each other, and their shared grief when their mother died. I also loved the tension that’s gradually revealed between the sisters — a major secret that Nat rushes to the island to keep Kit from finding out, and the way Nat had to step in as both older sister and mother for Kit, because of their mom’s depression.
I was less interested in the unnamed third narrator. Even though she later turns out to be pivotal to the plot, the mystery surrounding her identity felt forced, and it took a while for her story to take shape. The child abuse inflicted by her father were also emotionally difficult to read about, so heads up if that kind of content is a trigger for you. (I’ve put some examples at the bottom of this post, if you want to get an idea of the content.)
The structure of Nat and Kit’s chapters also slowed the pace down for me. We don’t get Kit’s narration until a bit over a third through the book, which does set up the mystery around her situation, but it also lessens the degree of our immersion into the story’s atmosphere. Nat’s search for Kit is urgent, but there’s a detachment to the narration that makes it feel less so, and the unnamed narrator’s chapters only serve to slow down the narration even further.
All that being said, the final few chapters of the novel saved it for me. There’s a reveal late in the book that reframes our understanding of the story and the characters to-date, significantly ratchets up the action and emotional urgency of the story, and sets up an exciting new direction for the story. Some of the elements of the ending are a bit too convenient to be believable — one character in particular acts in a way that’s completely out of character for them — but I was interested enough to willingly suspend my disbelief. I found the ending chilling, unexpected, and rather sad, which is just the complicated mess of emotions that makes a good thriller such a fun read. I only wish I’d had more of this from the very beginning.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
Some examples of the child abuse: The man required his daughters to complete a certain number of points to earn their right to sleep that night, and things like kneeling on broken glass are given extra points. In one scene, he forced the unnamed narrator to stay afloat in cold, dirty water for an hour, even though she didn’t know how to swim, and forced her older sister to keep watch for him. And in another, he forces his daughter to do a task that risks breaking her mother’s beloved family heirloom; that scene ends with an act of deliberate psychological cruelty towards the mother.