5-Star Book Review Club: The Illusion of a Girl by LeeAnn Werner

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The Illusion of a Girl by LeeAnn Werner

RUNNING TOWARD BALANCE

Holy dysfunctional families, my fellow reader! The Illusion of a Girl by LeeAnn Werner is a page-turner at its purest, and, whoa, it’s based on a true story. From the first scene, its frenetic pace keeps you on your mental toes. So many chapters, the way they ended compelled me to keep reading. The foreword by Mayank Chhaya added to this feeling since it helps you get a sense of the authentic background; it also teaches you why someone who’s lived this experience, and based the narrative on their true story, must write it as fiction to connect with the widest audience possible. Overall, the factor that this young adult psychological thriller is well written magnifies the effect, leaving you with the want of buying book 2. I know because I’ve already bought it. 

However, in order to not geek out on all that’s awesome in this novel and spoil the read, I focused my in-depth review on how LeeAnn Werner sets up the narrative so it grips you like a desperate nail digging into your calf as you try to put the book down and leave it behind. She does this by creating heart pounding tension throughout the novel, balancing it with heartwarming and calm scenes, and even adds depth to it by alluding to a classic novel. 

NAIL BITING TENSION

This novel’s first page is so tense, when I checked it out, it made me feel as if I had to read this immediately to find out what happens to this poor girl, Jessie Taylor; I felt so strongly about this; I wanted to stop reading the book I was reading so I could start this one. But, when I read it again, I felt exactly the same because it’s so realistic. According to my Fitbit, it made my heartbeat faster as I read about Jessie listening to the madness of her parents’ loud argument that made her narrate, “I reached down and shoved my feet into nearby running shoes. I always knew when I needed to run” (1). Next, the heartbreaking first scene intensifies as she panics after seeing her mom gasp for air as her dad chokes her. The author then has her narrate to show the mom’s current state, “Her eyes bugged out of her head, and her pantyhose-clad legs kicked uselessly against him (1)”, but the author doesn’t let you breathe either; the scene continues by having Jessie react this way: “I bounced on the balls of my feet and flapped my hands like a panicked bird, thinking, Don’t scream; don’t scream” (1-2). Then Jessie does something so amazing you can’t help but feel for her and her heroic instinct since she musters all the energy she has and propels herself into her father, shoving him off her mom, but unfortunately the author shows the painful result as Jessie explains, “He toppled off the side of the bed, while my momentum slammed me into their dresser. Pain shot through my shoulder” (2). The scene’s tension and what ensues is so engrossing you’ll be reading at a breathless pace.

HIDING WITHOUT RELIEF

But just like Jessie told you, she knows when it’s time to run, and soon after her father becomes enraged, the tension builds as if the story’s spirit builds a wall Jessie must break through. Her mom distracts the drunk father, giving Jessie a moment to act, so she takes off while her dad screams her name. The scene’s heart pounding effect comes to fruition when Jessie’s in the neighbor’s backyard as her dad yells at her from the back porch. It’s her mother that gets him to go back inside, but it’s Jessie’s thoughts that intensify this moment of relief. Jessie explains, “I cringed. The odds he would hit her back were very good, and that would mean I’d have to run back to the house to defend her, again” (3). So, just like Jessie doesn’t feel relief, you won’t either, and this is all due to the evocative prose shining throughout Werner’s novel. Later down the page, the little relief she feels is heartbreaking as you read, “The TV, and the voices of our neighbors…broke into my thoughts. The peaceful monotony of their conversation was oddly comforting.” This happens as she waits for her father to pass out, making the coast clear for her to go home. Once she’s back home, she must make herself a temporary bed on the bathroom floor just to have a barrier between her and her father’s unpredictable actions. Even as I wrote this, it was so heartbreaking to remember the details of this horrendous but riveting start, and we’re only four pages in!

INTENSIFYING ALLUSION

On page five, the author introduces something profound, and this effect adds depth to the character and the narrative. Werner has Jessie’s friend ask her what she’s reading, and it turns out to be Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye. Jessie informs her friend the book is on their high school’s banned book list, and that she’s reading them all. Then her friend asks if it’s good, to which Jessie answers, “It’s brutal, but interesting.” For readers who know about or who’ve read Morrison’s book, you will automatically make the connection to what Jessie went through in the opening scene, finding parallels throughout the reading experience, but I had no idea and it still had an impact since Jessie’s quick description to her friend sets the tone for what The Illusion of a Girl is about at its core. But it’s the part where she tells herself the rest of the opinion that makes it undeniable as to why The Bluest Eye is so good to Jessie since she thinks, “What I didn’t say was that I could relate to the dark, hateful humans portrayed in the book” (5). Then, after sharing a description of her school and how it’s one of her safe spaces, the author reminds you of Jessie’s pain when Jessie narrates, “I winced and adjusted my shoulder against the white-washed wall” (5). These details, as you put them together, create a gripping story, and to add anymore examples would easily creep into the spoiler warning territory. 

THE LAST RUN

I must cut myself off at this point because the great examples of well-written unputdownable tension in The Illusion of a Girl happen consistently throughout the novel. Then, of course, adding the fact that this story is based on a true story makes it a jaw-dropping example of the inner strength it took to write this as fiction rather than a vendetta fueled memoir; this shows the true strength of the author’s ability to separate her own feelings from this story in order to make a riveting tale that can help many children who grow up in similar circumstances. This is so important to Ms. Werner; she has the information at the end to help teens or adults going through this horrid everyday situation.

As for the novel, the author uses multiple points of views to create enthralling depth that grips you until the shockingly satisfying denouement. The family dynamic displayed here is one of the most intense parts, since it shows dysfunction on a level most people couldn’t even fathom. You’ll be amazed by the fearless grandma who will most likely become your favorite character; I know she’s mine. Besides the intense family stuff, it’s a story about the all-American high school experience with life lessons to learn from, and these moments work to create a balance with the intense scenes you’d want no child to go through, regardless of their age. When the dissociative identity disorder becomes prominent in the story, the intensity of the plot and the gripping nature of the prose create an undeniable, unputdownable effect. The action scenes are super on point. They’re definitely page turning, to say the least. Then the way Werner contrasts these scenes with polar opposite scenes, it makes you care deeply about Jessie and her brother’s wellbeing. The Illusion of a Girl by LeeAnn Werner, its intensity lasts until the very last page to teach you why you don’t want the burden of knowing what actually happened. 

Thank you for reading our in-depth book review about The Illusion of a Girl by LeeAnn Werner. We are not affiliated with the publisher, but here’s the link to pick up a copy.

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E. R. Sanchez is the author of Fried Potato Press’ first young adult thriller, Petaco Dreams, which will be released Fall 2024 after the rewrite, new title, and new cover. He also has poems and stories published online and in print. If you’d like to read his work that was published online, please click here to go to his Stories and Poetry Section.

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