Book review: 'The Perfect Stranger' is the perfect summer thriller
Posted May 7
Despite its imperfections, you should get to know “The Perfect Stranger” this summer.
The new thriller from Megan Miranda, author of last year’s hit “All the Missing Girls,” tells the story of Leah Stephens, a former star reporter from Boston who relocates to work as a high school teacher in the western Pennsylvania backwoods with her longtime (and mysterious) friend Emmy.
Once Emmy disappears, Leah goes on a massive hunt to find her, involving herself in a romantic relationship with a police officer and questioning her sanity in the process.
“The Perfect Stranger” is a page-turner. Like similar books of the time “The Girl on the Train” and “Gone Girl,” Miranda’s novel follows an imperfect and often unreliable feminine hero through her murder mystery investigation.
Readers of this book should plan to ignore friends, family or anyone or anything that may get in the way of one more page, one more chapter. This is not a book that lingers; it quickly hurdles its readers to its thrilling final moments.
But Miranda’s story doesn’t always know what it wants to be.
At times, "Strangers" feels like a pseudo-sequel to Paula Hawkins' “The Girl on the Train," where a female protagonist (Leah) can't figure out why someone might have killed the object of her infatuation (Emmy), just as Hawkins' character Rachel experiences in her novel.
At other times, the book comes off like an adult-influenced version of “13 Reasons Why.” High school teen gossip influences the story's mystery, with some students withholding information or manipulating Leah.
And then at the conclusion, “The Perfect Stranger” teeters close to Dennis Lehane's 2003 best-seller “Shutter Island,” where Miranda appears to toy with a similar narrative risk involving insanity. Ultimately, Miranda plays it safe with the book’s final moments and she finishes the book without too many lingering questions.
Which is to say, the climax in "The Perfect Stranger" feels like a rushed decision. The plotting that takes readers to Miranda's conclusion is logical, sure, but by the final page, it is also fairly forgettable. It may be the perfect ending, but in an imperfect way — too tidy, too complete.
Miranda's references — intended or not — to contemporary fiction and TV shows may cause readers to wonder where "The Perfect Stranger" fits among other similar works. But this complaint will be drowned out by the sound of pages swooshing by as readers clamor to get to the book's end. Miranda’s descriptions, character development and story captivate in what can only be described as the beginning of a bright future for the young adult thriller author.
Content advisory: This book contains a handful of sex scenes between Leah and the police officer. Violence and mature language pepper the entire work. There's also reference to rape and sexual assault.