Survive the Night
Grade : A-

We have a lot of sayings about time - life can turn on a dime, life can change in an instant, time heals all wounds, time flies - which all point to the fact that time plays an important role in the human experience. In Survive the Night a young film student learns that six hours is all it takes to completely change everything.

Time may heal all wounds, but two months has been too short a period to affect college junior Charlie Jordan’s grief in any way. The eight weeks that have passed since her roommate and best friend Maddy was murdered have not alleviated Charlie’s pain and guilt. As a result, she has decided that staying where all her memories of Maddy are strongest is slowing her recovery. Desperate to feel better, Charlie determines to go home to her grandmother’s house, where Nana Norma can spoil and care for her. With that goal in mind but having no car or other way to get there, Charlie walks over to the university’s ride board, where students looking for a way home leave notes, and gets ready to post a flyer offering gas money in exchange for a lift. While there she meets the handsome Josh Baxter, who happens to be driving to just where Maddy needs to be. He hadn’t planned to leave as early as that evening, but Charlie urges him to reconsider. Josh agrees to try and rearrange things so he can depart that night and takes her phone number so that he can contact her if he’s successful. He is able to makes some changes to his schedule and calls Charlie to arrange a time and place to pick her up.

Charlie’s boyfriend Robbie (rightfully) thinks she is behaving rashly. If she can wait until the weekend, he’ll drive her home, but his work as a teacher’s assistant means he can’t leave that day. Charlie ignores his pleas to reconsider but reluctantly agrees to use code on her phone calls to let him know how her drive with a strange man is going. If Charlie says “Things took a detour” that will be the signal she’s in trouble. That’s if she gets the chance to call. It’s 1991, just a few short years before cell phones were easily accessible to everyone. Any calls Charlie makes will have to be from a pay phone.

Charlie hasn’t even  been in the car with Josh an hour before she realizes she’s made a terrible mistake. It’s not just that she’s traveling on a deserted highway in the dead of night with a complete stranger – it’s that it’s crystal-clear Josh is lying to her. Or at least she thinks he is. Several years before, Charlie’s parents had died in a car accident. Charlie and her grandmother had spent the days after their death watching old movies – not really eating or sleeping, just viewing one film after another. At her folk’s funeral, Charlie had slipped mental states – rather than seeing the actual burial, she had imagined a grander, more meaningful ceremony, a “movie in her mind” which allowed her to escape the emotional pain of her reality and turn her life into something glamorous and beautiful. She’s experienced these “movie” episodes ever since, and Maddy’s death has exacerbated the problem. So now, Charlie’s unsure if the conversations she’s having with Josh - which point toward him being the infamous serial murderer the Campus Killer, the villain who slayed Maddy, - are real or are part of her “movie moments”.

Let’s stop right here for a moment and talk about this ridiculous situation.  Slipping in and out of reality on a regular basis is extremely dangerous for many reasons. To name just a few – you could walk into traffic, trip down a steep flight of stairs, drown in a bathtub, kill someone you think is attacking you when all they are doing is saying hi, and last but not least, not see what is right in front of you. The latter is precisely what happened the night Maddy died. Charlie had likely seen the killer talking to Maddy outside the bar they had gone to, but her mind had slipped into a movie fugue, where Maddy and the killer were in a 1940s film noir. Charlie could give the police no details about the man except that he had been wearing a suit and fedora, two things they very much doubt. The police get her medical help; Charlie is treated with some little orange tablets and released back into the world where she experiences longer and longer episodes of these blank moments where she is catatonic as a movie in her mind replaces the reality right in front of her. The people who allegedly love her – Nana Norma and Robbie – apparently don’t find this a problem. I remain completely baffled by how mental health issues are viewed – and handled - in our nation.

My issues with Charlie’s problem aside, Survive the Night is a complete thrill ride of a story with two extremely well-drawn and intriguing characters in Josh and Charlie.  The author does a spectacular job of making Josh both extremely likable and completely creepy. We are entirely unsure if he is a great guy stuck in a car with a crazy woman or a sadistic psycho whose veneer of normality is about to break wide open as he tries to murder our innocent heroine.

Lurking behind Charlie’s mental incapacity and questionable life choices is a lovely, intelligent, strong young woman. While it would have been easy to judge her for getting into a car with a stranger while someone named the Campus Killer was running around murdering coeds, we come to understand her reasoning as the story progresses. I’m not going to give away any spoilers but let’s just say I was sympathetic to her thought process.

The plot is more than just a touch ludicrous but it’s also oddly mesmerizing and engrossing, probably because we want to know just what it is that is happening between Charlie and Josh. Will they arrive at Grandma’s house or will one of them wind up murdering the other along the way? I was deeply invested in the answer to that question.

Survive the Night has been named a New York Times Book Review's "summer read guaranteed to make your heart thump and your skin crawl"; An Amazon Best of the Month Pick; a must-read summer book by The Washington Post, Vulture, BuzzFeed, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, CNN, and a long list of other publications.  While it has some eye-roll inducing flaws and plot twists, it’s nonetheless  a really intriguing story that will keep you up all night obsessively reading. I recommend it to fans of the thriller genre.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : July 2, 2021

Publication Date: 06/2021

Review Tags: male author

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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