Summer is the best part of the year in Winston, California, and the Fourth of July is the highlight of the season. But the perfect town Clare remembers has changed, and everyone is praying that this summer will be different from the last two—that this year’s Fourth of July festival won’t see one of their own vanish without a trace, leaving no leads and no suspects. The media are in a frenzy predicting a third disappearance, but the town depends on tourist dollars, so the residents of Winston are trying desperately to pretend nothing’s wrong.
And they’re not the only ones hiding something.
Clare, a seamstress who redesigns vintage clothing, has been blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a gift: she can see people’s pasts when she touches their clothes. When she stumbles across a denim jacket that once belonged to Amanda Stavros, last year’s Fourth of July victim, Clare sees her perfect town begin to come apart at the seams.
In a town where appearance means everything, how deep beneath the surface will Clare dig to uncover a murderer?
You can read an excerpt here.
This is one of those books that’s just…fine. It’s not bad, certainly, and it does work overall, but for me, Hanging By A Thread just lacked something vital.
First off, let me say right off the bat that this book reminded me quite a bit of Kim Harrington’s Clarity - so a lot of this story did feel fairly familiar. This story too features a family that sticks out, the subject of gossip in a small town, and it too features a mysterious murder that draws a teen protag into an investigation, an investigation in which she just happens to be aided by a paranormal skill at psychometry (i.e. she sees the history of an object – in this case, clothing in particular – when she touches it). Like Clarity, this book features a somewhat mysterious bad boy who becomes the brooding love interest, and this story too explores the uncomfortable secrets and lies that seethe just below the surface of a small town. Yet while all of that was well and good – and for the record, I did enjoy Clarity - I just couldn’t particularly fall into this book, and I’m having a hard time quantifying why. Suffice it to say, something about this book just fell a bit flat, for me.
But let me start off with the good: I enjoyed Clare’s interest in fashion, and how Littlefield included bits and pieces about the art and craft of fashion design, and I enjoyed Clare’s closest relationships – her strained relationships with her mother, grandmother and father, and how her best friend, Rachel, was not an easy or straightforward person. I liked the matter-of-fact way in which Clare’s ability was introduced, and the uneasy air that permeated Clare’s investigation, as the clues she discovered kept throwing suspicion on people she hated to suspect. And altogether the ending, while perhaps not terribly surprising, answered every question I wanted it to.
So why, then, did this story not work for me? Honestly I can’t entirely explain it – but something about the alchemy of this story just did not spark. Maybe it was because of the way the family conflict felt disconnected from the larger narrative – I liked Clare’s arguments with her mother, but they felt kind of like islands, events with no real relation to the larger story. Or maybe it was Jack, the aforementioned bad boy love interest – who, while perfectly fine, didn’t do a whole lot for me, and whose arrival brought more angsty sighing than I cared to read. Or maybe it was because the investigation itself wasn’t personal enough – Clare is pretty much drawn into the matter against her will, dragged willy nilly by her peculiar ability, and that lack of intimacy, of personal connection, robbed the investigation of a certain vitality. In Clarity, (whose protagonist is also named Clare, ironically), Harrington’s Clare had to investigate, because it was the only way to clear her brother’s name – here, Littlefield’s Clare has no driving reason to get involved, instead she’s spurred on only by a kind of reluctant nobility. I liked this Clare fine, generally speaking, but the only part of Clare’s investigation that really registered with me, in terms of emotional involvement, was when suspicion fell on Rachel, Clare’s only real friend in town – which was really the only time this story felt personal. Other than that, I sadly was just never particularly invested in Clare’s plight.
So in the end, I have nothing particularly terrible to say about this book, but I can’t heartily reccomend it either (and honestly, if you’re on the hunt for a YA mystery/thriller, I’d firmly steer you towards the far superior The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks). As for this book, which served as my introduction to Sophie Littlefield, I will say this – Hanging By A Thread has left me perfectly willing to pick up another book by Littlefield, but at the same time, I’m not going to go out of my way to find one. Make of that what you will.
Byrt Grade: B
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Littlefield writes a nifty little mystery and hits the right buttons for the current paranormal craze. Throwing in fashion design and a hot romance with a hunky bad-boy type also boosts interest, but well-drawn family and friend relationships form the heart of this story
The overall plot of the book is somewhat predictable but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. The mystery surrounding Amanda Stavros’ disappearance (and presumed death/murder) unfolds in a way that keeps you engaged, even if you know where there story is going.
This wasn’t a bad read, just not a great one either. It wouldn’t keep me from trying her other books but it wouldn’t make me buy them either if I didn’t already own them.