Seventeen-year-old Skye Thorne plays with paranormal. Though she pretends to be a psychic—like Sherlock Holmes, Skye uses her observation skills to wangle her way through tarot card readings. Legally named Candi, by her strange, single mom, Skye needs the cash to escape to New York after graduation. She’s made plans with her wealthy best friend, Drew. Skye and her mom live on the poor side of this small Midwestern town, and though she works shifts at Burger Barn, and earns lunch tickets by helping in the milk and cookies counsellor’s office, Skye hasn’t saved a cent. Though, she has accrued a fair amount of information about her peers, since she has access to their files.
A strong female protagonist, with questionable moral values, Skye Thorne has a barbed sense of right and wrong. A part of me wants her to be a “good girl” and do the right thing; instead, Cook has given us a real girl with flaws and real-world problems.
Money is what motivates Skye to participate in the kidnapping of Paige Bonnet, whose rich father is a judge and Senate-hopeful. Newsflash: Paige is no “good girl” either. Skye’s task is to lie and manipulate her way into working with the police as a psychic, to drop just the right hints at just the right time to ensure Paige’s plans succeed. With her experience, it should have been easy. Unfortunately, Judge Bonnet refuses to pay his daughter’s ransom, and then, a body turns up. When Skye’s annoying mother weasels her way into the case, the whole thing turns upside down…like “the hanging girl”.
Skye must solve the crime before her deception is revealed and fingers start pointing in her direction; otherwise, the hanging girl could easily become the hanged girl.
A dark murder mystery, The Hanging Girl is also an American teen novel, with all its angst, tragic twists, and social stigma. Eileen Cook, known for her YA thrillers, grew up in Michigan (like Skye Thorne) but now calls Vancouver home. She teaches writing at Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program and works as an editor—facts that are illustrated in her prose. Written in first person and peppered with references to teen life, the reader becomes immersed in Skye’s contemporary world of Amazon, Pop-Tarts, and Diet Coke. But, beneath the mundane allusions lies something sinister. Cook once worked counselling people with “catastrophic injuries and illness” which might account for some of the psychological Girl on a Train vibe in this novel.
In the end, this book left me mulling over tragic Shakespearian heroines and wondering: what’s a girl willing to do to survive?
Eileen Cook won the John Spray Mystery Award in 2018 for The Hanging Girl. Congratulations, Eileen Cook!
As posted in The Ottawa Review of Books December 2017 edition