Title: Don’t Turn Around
Author: Jessica Barry
Date of Publication: JULY 30th 2020
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Format reviewed: e-arc
Number of pages: 320
Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America. Rebecca is trying to escape something. Cait doesn’t know what Rebecca has left behind her – she doesn’t ask any questions – her job is solely to transport women to safety. But the secrets Rebecca holds could put them both in danger. Cait too has a past of her own – there’s a reason she chooses to spend time on the road, looking out for others. Because she knows what it’s like to be followed. As the two women travel across America, it quickly becomes clear someone is right behind them, watching their every move.
The question is: who, and why?
What do you think of when you read the words ‘action thriller’?
I won’t deny I think of danger, fast-paced chapters, and most of all, guys. Why does my brain connect action with men? We women are pretty productive ourselves, and we often are at the center of the action, of a hundred reasons. One of the worse reasons being danger. So why on earth do I end up with an old-fashioned way of thinking? Will we ever get rid of the frail woman losing her mind over the threats surrounding her?
If women like Jessica Barry keep writing pieces that give women their strength back, yes. There is hope.
Don’t Turn Around surprised me by the sheer force of its writing, the subjects tackled, its outstanding characters, and the impact it had on me. I love thrillers. I love it when I can slip into a life that faces danger, from the safety of my couch or bed. That word again. Danger.
Danger has a different definition depending on our identity. As early as childhood, girls are told to ‘be careful’, to ‘stay where we can see you’, to ‘not talk to strangers’. We grow up learning to be on our guard. Don’t trust strangers, don’t accept drinks from people. Don’t wear that. Don’t go out too late. The author took the universally accepted truth that women are not safe, and built a story that has the sweet taste of payback.
No, the characters you will meet in Don’t Turn Around are not big clichés of strong women who aren’t afraid of nothing. They are women like you and me, caught in the headlights of a big truck called danger, but they decide to fight back.
Cait and Rebecca could not be more different. Yet both have secrets that could put them in… well, yes, danger.
The alternating chapters only offer a drip-feeding of information, giving more strength to the threats you feel hovering over. Instead of a feeling of freedom and excitement at driving the roads of America, I became more claustrophobic in this car as the miles rolled by. Why would two women who have never seen each other before met at midnight, one in her car, waiting for the other, before driving off to a destination the reader is first not privy to? The opening sets the tone and gets the reader reeled in instantly. There is no room for hesitation. Once you are in, you are in.
Although I had no real clue what Rebecca was fleeing from, I did my best to guess and the usual suspects crept in. An abusive husband? But it soon became clear there was more at stake. At first, I thought Rebecca was too cold and distant that I would not be able to connect to her.
On the contrary, it only took me a few lines to warm up to Cait, and her Jeep. She seemed to know what she was doing, despite her sense of wariness. Cait’s job was to pick up women and drive them to safety. Young and ready to help, I simply thought her heart was in the right place and she was much less complicated that Rebecca. How naïve of me! Not to say women are complicated, or at least more complicated than men. This is another cliché we need to get rid of. Men are just as complicated, they just show it in a different way.
Back to our women. As the speedometer’s needle pointed towards higher numbers, my curiosity grew. Jessica Barry kept me in the dark, just as she did her characters, long enough to see their life threatened by a mysterious truck. Immediately, it reminded me of all the times I’ve driven on my own, double-checking my rear-view mirror. Yes, I am paranoid. Aren’t we raised to be this way, at different scales? We’re touching the heart of the book. What makes Don’t Turn Around‘s heart beat is not the fear, but the women’s refusal to give in to it.
Once the hunt is on, it is hard to take a break! I just couldn’t tear my eyes off the pages. Who was the truck driver? Why was he following them? Well, following is an easy way to say he was out to get them! Two women, in the deserted roads of Texas, chased by a big shadow. If the usual answers to my questions popped into my head, the author made sure I was never ever sure of anything. Was Rebecca the target? Or had Cait been hiding something? I could feel the adrenaline run through my veins as if I were sitting in the car too. Not because I am a woman and I know what it feels like to be in a position where you’re the vulnerable one, but because the writing makes it impossible not to care, not to be entranced by the journey and its bumps in the road.
You want action? Grab Don’t Turn Around. You want action with a touch of something more? A goal, an eye-opening story that is supposed to make you feel outraged at the unfairness of life and the dead ends we hit? You’ve got your next read.
Both women have been doing things that have led them to this dangerous night, and now it’s time to face the monsters. Can you trust the woman sitting next to you with your life? Cait and Rebecca’s relationship must be one of my favorites. From strangers to each other’s last hope, they go through their personal nightmares bloodied hand in bloodied hand. When the whole world could be your enemy, it’s the only way to go. Fight the creepiness! Gosh, every page almost felt like fire under my fingers. The creepy vibe is strong. I had to reason myself not to glance behind my back, knowing all I’d find would be my wall! I seriously recommend this book if you need a boost of action!
I am in awe of Jessica Barry’s way to include very sensitive and controversial matters in her plot. Things happen every day that put women in danger, feeling cornered by ideas that need to be fought. I am glad I read Don’t Turn Around as it acted as a strong reminder we can’t let our guard down.
Don’t Turn Around is an exceptional action thriller with a top-notch psychological side. Everything in this book is ready to shake you, in every way. I couldn’t get enough of it, and I was sad to say goodbye to Cait and Rebecca. I was left on my butt, with a lot to think about, and the need to rest after so many turns. I will not use the word ‘twists’ here as I never felt Jessica Barry needed to twist her storyline to make things happen. They did because of her excellent flair at creating scenes, plausible and so real they smoothly took me from one page to another. No big shocking twists needed when you can breathe life into paper.
I have been lucky to find several five-star reads this year, but this book is very special to me. Is it its American tone? Is it the characters? Is it the plot? It’s everything. So, each of the stars I am giving Don’t Turn Around is special, and counts for double! The novel and the author go straight on my list of favorites.
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I would like to thank the publisher and the lovely Jasmine for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS.
She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London.
She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman.