Book Review: An Anonymous Girl by Hendricks & Pekkanen

Book Review: An Anonymous Girl by Hendricks & Pekkanen

A psychological thriller that is, like their earlier book, perfect for conversion into a movie.

For its page-turnability, the reader is allowed to suspend his/her disbelief at times.

People are motivated to break their moral compasses for a variety of primal reasons: survival, hate, love, envy, passion. And money.”

Cat-and-mouse. The chess players or shatranj ke khilaadi, if you will. Mind games. Games people play. That’s what this book is about. An Anonymous Girl, a collaborative effort by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen, is a psychological thriller that is, like their earlier book, perfect for conversion into a movie.

The titular anonymous girl is Jessica Farris, a young make-up artiste in New York struggling to make money to survive in the big bad city by taking on private make-up jobs through an agency. Her dream is to work with Broadway productions; however, the agency jobs are more lucrative so the dream is on the backburner. One reason for this is the guilt she lives with as she holds herself responsible for the brain injury her sister suffered way back in their younger days, and this compels her to bear the cost of her care.

On one of her make-up assignments, she happens to see an offer for participation in a study offering a good $500. She manipulates her way in sneakily, which is ironic as the subject of the study is ethics and morality. This brings her in touch with Dr Lydia Shields, a chic and sophisticated but creepy psychiatrist, and she becomes Subject 52 in her study.

The initial survey is done through an online questionnaire in an empty classroom where, unknowingly, Jessica is monitored by the doctor. The only requirement, and an important one at that, is for her to be totally honest while answering questions to which there are no right or wrong answers.  

Questions such as ‘Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?’ or ‘Describe a time in your life when you cheated’ are part of her first session. And she is so truthful that she reveals many personal moments and views to the psychiatrist, which are stored by the doctor for future use.

“Often the most effective psychological studies are rooted in deception. For example, a subject can be led to believe he or she is being evaluated for one behaviour when, in fact, the psychologist has engineered this decoy to measure something else entirely.” That is the game of the doctor’s survey and her devious plan.

After a few sessions, the women meet in person and Jessica agrees to undertake some real-life social experiments for considerable sums of money. Unknowingly, Jessica is getting trapped in Dr Shields’s lair. The questions in each session become more personal and, at times, intrusive.

The social situations she is expected to participate in are scripted out for her, down to what she should wear and the way she should act. The money increases with each outing, luring her more and more into the strange situation.

It comes to such a state that, at times, she feels Dr Shields knows exactly what is going on in her mind and how she would react in a given situation. Which unnerves her, but the significant extra money that is coming in handy for her family keeps her going even though some assignments the doctor sets out for her alarm her and make her uncomfortable. She becomes  a pawn in the sinister machinations of the doctor.

The mind games continue between the two women as Jessica has a questioning mind and tries to see through or predict what the doctor might do next, till the story takes a turn when Jessica gets to know about Subject 5 in the study and her apparent suicide. The psychological warfare intensifies. It becomes a race of one-upmanship between the two women who try to outsmart each other in their minds. Other characters enter the story too but that would be telling!

The story starts out at an easy pace with every alternate chapter narrated by Jessica and Dr Shields in their own dissimilar styles that give their character a distinctness from the other. While Jessica is a normal girl talking in the first person, the doctor talks in the second person, in an icy, detached manner, giving her a subtle underlying spookiness. The story builds up slow and steady, and then the last one-third vrooms off, much like a nifty car in an F1 race. It’s taut and keeps the reader turning the pages swiftly to know what comes next.

For its page-turnability, the reader is allowed to suspend his/her disbelief at times.

Just when Jessica figures out something, another googly is thrown at her as well as the reader. Pretty enjoyable stuff. The dual perspectives add to the building of the tension and is a perfect style for the story. The twist in the tale was not as twisty as one had expected, but that’s quibbling. It’s a great book for that rainy day with munchies on the side! Now, all we need is some rain.

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