Sunday, July 6, 2014


Title: Don’t Breathe a Word
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: May 17, 2011
Genres: Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5


On a soft summer night in Vermont, twelve-year-old Lisa went into the woods behind her house and never came out again. Before she disappeared, she told her little brother, Sam, about a door that led to a magical place where she would meet the King of the Fairies and become his queen.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe is in love with Sam, a practical, sensible man who doesn't fear the dark and doesn't have bad dreams—who, in fact, helps Phoebe ignore her own. But suddenly the couple is faced with a series of eerie, unexplained occurrences that challenge Sam's hardheaded, realistic view of the world. As they question their reality, a terrible promise Sam made years ago is revealed—a promise that could destroy them all.


A mysterious combination of reality, fantasy, and the mystical, Don't Breathe a Word captivated me from the start and kept me reading way past normal hours. A newsworthy disappearance of a twelve-year-old child becomes the suspenseful, horrifying center of Phoebe's existence fifteen years later.

Although this story is supposed to be centered round Teilo, king of the fairies, it is almost depressingly realistic with some highly dysfunctional families and deeply flawed characters. Nevertheless, I loved the suspenseful twists and turns this book takes the reader on before the truth is revealed. Even when the plot unravels, a healthy dose of doubt and mystery remain for the reader to ponder.

The characters in this book are as realistic as they come. Coming from a background of alcoholism, drug abuse and neglect, Phoebe is a troubled person. Despite this, however, she copes admirably with the crisis that hits her and Sam. Although I often doubted down-to-earth, realistic Sam's loyalty, he seems to keep his head best throughout the confused and twisted events of this story.

The best crafted character in this book, however, is Evie. Often mocked as Stevie as a child, Evie seems to be one of the victims in this tale. First an impostor Evie appears and then a neglected woman, but, which one, if any, is the real Evie?  

The changing point of view between Phoebe in the present and Lisa in the past gives the reader a thorough picture of what really happened. Still, the resolution of the mystery came as an unexpected surprise.

This book kept me guessing right up to the end. Apart from the nail-biting suspense, there are parts of this story which are simply downright scary. The woods of Vermont are a very apt setting for such a haunting tale that treads the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

For a tale full of secrets and pretence, cruelty, and unnatural love, as well as an imaginatively twisted plot, I recommend Don't Breathe a Word as an absolute must-read.

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I was born in 1968 and grew up in my grandmother’s house in suburban Connecticut, where I was convinced a ghost named Virgil lived in the attic. I wrote my first short story in third grade. I graduated with a BA from Goddard College in 1991 and then studied poetry for a year in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College. A poem turned into a story, which turned into a novel, and I decided to take some time to think about whether I wanted to write poetry or fiction. After bouncing around the country, I wound up back in Vermont, living in a cabin with no electricity, running water, or phone with my partner, Drea, while we built our own house. Over the years, I have been a house painter, farm worker, paste-up artist, Easter Bunny, pizza delivery person, homeless shelter staff member, and counselor for adults and kids with mental illness — I quit my last real job in 2000 to work on writing full time. In 2004, I gave birth to our daughter, Zella. These days, we’re living in an old Victorian in Montpelier, Vermont. Some neighbors think it looks like the Addams family house, which brings me immense pleasure.

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