The Stillwater Girls
Nineteen-year-old Wren has been raised in a hunting cabin in the deep woods of upstate New York alongside her sisters, nine-year-old Evie and seventeen-year-old Sage. Taught that the outside world is dangerous by her mother, Wren is shocked when a sick Evie is scooped up by Mama and carried off to the civilized world.
Months pass by, but Evie and Mama never return. With their supplies dwindling and the livestock dying off, the intrusion of a stranger forces Wren’s hand, and causes her to take Sage with her on a daring journey through the woods toward safety in the ultimate hope of finding their lost family.
On the other side of the woods, photographer Nicolette’s tension has reached a fever pitch. Infertile, she and her husband Brant are wending their way through the foster care system in the hope of adopting a child. Their marriage is crumbling, and she has a feeling he’s hiding something from her – but what could that be?
When Nicolette and Wren’s worlds collide, a surprising truth is revealed, leaving both women struggling to cope with their new realities.
AAR reviewers Shannon Dyer and Lisa Fernandes are here to share their thoughts on Minka Kent’s latest thriller, The Stillwater Girls.
Lisa: I was expecting something more along the lines of a rural thriller – Winter’s Bone, but more New York – than I got out of this. Were your expectations met?
Shannon: I’d say so. I’ve read and enjoyed two of this author’s previous books, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Every book is different, of course, but I was familiar enough with Kent’s writing style to make some basic guesses about the overall tone of the story.
Lisa: Ah-hah! This was my first experience with the author, and I admit I’m thinking about trying another book of hers because of this one. Wren is one of those tough, resolute young ladies of modern fiction who has an endgame secret that I couldn’t wholly believe in. How did you feel about her?
Shannon: I actually liked Wren quite a bit. She’s sheltered, but not totally naive, something that works well for me. She’s been through quite a bit of tough stuff, and she has a kind of world-weariness that really spoke to me.
Lisa: Oh, I definitely liked her – I just didn’t think the last twisty secret she held worked, but that doesn’t affect how I feel about it. But I found Sage much easier to relate to and enjoy. What did you think of her?
Shannon: Sage is a true delight. She’s the kind of character I wanted to hug. There’s something so sweet and beguiling about her, something that serves as the perfect foil for the tougher, more self-reliant Wren.
Lisa: Her determination to keep going even though she’s physically weaker than Wren struck a big cord with me. And then there’s Nicolette, a decent person I couldn’t quite bond with emotionally.
Shannon: Nicolette is a character with a ton of potential that she sadly didn’t live up to. I wanted to feel sorry for her, especially when it came to her desperate need to be a mother, but something about the way the author wrote her kept her at a bit of a distance. She felt a little contrived to me, like the author was trying too hard to force her into a mold she simply couldn’t fit into, if that makes sense.
Lisa: It does. I think that plot twist I mentioned is the biggest problem that keeps her at a distance, to be honest. General plot contrivance is my biggest problem with the novel, to be honest. My nickname for this one is The One Wherein There Is A Big Twist. Without spoiling anything, what did you think of that surprise? What did you think of the mystery itself? I was at least surprised by the twist of our central plot.
Shannon: I read a ton of thrillers these days, so it’s difficult for a book to totally surprise me. Having said that, there were a few key points relating to the big twist that I hadn’t worked out before the big reveal happened. For me, the enjoyment came mostly from watching the characters navigate the tricky emotional and situational waters they were placed in. Don’t get me wrong, the suspenseful portions were good, but not the strongest parts of the book.
Lisa: The human factor of the novel is definitely the best part. Yet, when they meet, I felt as if Nicolette and Wren bonded a little too quickly while Sage faded into the background, especially after she’d been so integral to the first part of the story.
Shannon: I would have liked to see Sage play more of a central role in the story. There was room for some definite evolution of her character, but I didn’t get the impression the author was all that interested in allowing her to grow. Wren was definitely the focus, and I wasn’t always thrilled with that choice. As for her relationship with Nicolette, I think you’re right about it happening awfully fast.
Lisa: With Wren having been taught all her life not to trust anyone but her mother, it was such a weirdly easy plot choice, as if the author has pressed the easy button on the whole plot (which is also what I think they ultimately did with Evie). Speaking of Mama, she or Evie really needed a little bit of a point of view, didn’t they? That might just be my impression.
Shannon: Evie wasn’t all that interesting to me, but I would have loved to get at least a glimpse into Mama’s head. It would have added an extra layer of tension to the story, I think, as well as giving the reader a bit of insight into what caused her to make some of the decisions she ultimately makes.
Lisa: And what of the quality of the writing?
Shannon: Kent’s writing is solid, but not spectacular. She does a great job setting her scenes, and I enjoyed the pacing of the book as a whole. Still, there’s nothing extraordinary about it, nothing that elevates her to the level of authors like Clare Mackintosh or Ruth Ware. How did you feel about it, especially since I get the impression this was your first experience with her work?
Lisa: I think it was there but the level of talent displayed was not especially spectacular. What’s your grade? I’m going with a flat B; I liked the contrast between Nicolette’s polished world and the rural nightmare of Wren’s, but its two Big Secrets felt convoluted.
Shannon: I’m going just above you with a B+. I think the mystery itself worked a little better for me than it did for you, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to go any higher.