Book Review: Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelley Hall

Sisters of Misery is a young adult Gothic novel told from the viewpoint of Maddie Crane, a teenage girl growing up in a small New England town outside of Salem, MA. The local history is overshadowed by the witchcraft trials, tragedy, and persecution of outsiders, mainly women who stand apart from the mainstream crowd. All of these elements are interwoven amongst the elite adolescent clique known as the Sisters of Misery. The story explores the mystery of the disappearance of the newest girl in town, Maddie’s enchanting cousin Cordelia.

What have they done to you? Maddie cries, making her way across the clearing to her cousin’s side. The bonfire has died down to embers, occasionally throwing a spark or a hiss. They are trapped together in the eerie halflight between night and day. Everyone else has fled, returning to their houses as if nothing bad has happened.

But it has.

I read this book, which serves to launch the new young adult line of novels by Kensington Books, while staying up alone at night in a mountain cabin out in the woods. This eerie tale kept me up late, listening to the sounds outside, while turning the next page when I should have been asleep. Though it did slow down a bit in the middle, it was a decent first novel by Megan Kelley Hall. The concepts were intriguing and veered from the traditional path of magic and paranormal as interpreted by other popular novels of the genre. I would have liked to see more of the character development and background that was belatedly introduced towards the end of the book come into play earlier in the story, but overall, it was a decent read that crossed over from purely teenage lit into something appealing for adult readers as well.

Though the main character is not as whiny or annoying as many female teenage characters found in the popular YA novels of today, I still had a hard time believing that Maddie, even raised in the stifling society in which she was raised, would not stand up for herself or those she cared about more. She was consistently a product of her environment to the point of being a stereotype. However, the characters around her were a bit more layered. I found the familial relationships interesting, such as the antagonistic relationship between Maddie’s mother and Maddie’s aunt, as well as the unusual apprentice-like mentoring relationship between Maddie and her grandmother.

I would categorize the Gothic plot as a “lite” version reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. The runic mythology tied to the plot definitely added to the telling of the story, while the group interactions that led to events that wouldn’t have otherwise been carried out by any single individual made for a darkly fascinating dynamic. The unraveling of the mystery itself produced some nail-biting scenes.


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