Safe A novel

S. K. Barnett, 1954-

Book - 2020

"A kidnapped girl returns home after twelve years away--but coming home may not be as easy as she thought in this roller coaster ride of lies, betrayal, and secrets that just might be the twistiest thriller you'll read all year. Jenny Kristal was six years old when she was snatched off the sidewalk from her quiet suburban neighborhood. Twelve years later, she's miraculously returned home after escaping her kidnappers--but as her parents and younger brother welcome her back, the questions begin to mount. Where has she been all these years? Why is she back now? And is home really the safest place for her . . . or for any of them?"--

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FICTION/Barnett, S. K.
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Subjects
Genres
Suspense fiction
Thrillers (Fiction)
Novels
Published
New York : Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 2020.
Language
English
Main Author
S. K. Barnett, 1954- (author)
Physical Description
319 pages ; 24 cm
ISBN
9781524746520
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Ambivalence and shock are on offer here from Barnett, "a pseudonym for a New York Times bestselling author whose previous book was turned into a major motion picture." As the book opens, teenage Jenny, missing since she failed to show up at a playdate with a neighbor when she was six, returns to her still-grieving family's home. Her parents seem ecstatic that their despair is over, but Jenny's brother isn't as pleased. In the first of several head-spinning twists, readers learn that the brother has a point: Jenny's first-person narration reveals that she's a serial long-lost-daughter impostor. The will-they-discover-the-duplicity tale is intertwined with Jobeth's (the usurper's real name) investigation of what happened to the real Jenny. (Potential readers should be aware that sexual and other violent child abuse is described.) A thought-provoking premise, excellently executed and featuring the incredibly believable voice of a cynical teenager who's seen way too much. Give this to readers who enjoy an unabashedly unreliable narrator.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Twelve years after six-year-old Jenny Kristal disappeared on her way to play with a friend in suburban Long Island, N.Y., she returns home--or does she? Whether the scrawny teen who nearly collapses near her old house is truly Jenny or an imposter propels this disturbing psychological thriller from the pseudonymous Barnett. Tearful mom Laurie welcomes the newcomer unconditionally, dad Jake seems oddly distant, and 20-year-old brother Ben is openly suspicious. And if things weren't already sufficiently tense, an anonymous new Facebook friend warns Jenny she's "not safe in that house." Barnett skillfully maintains the central mystery as long as possible, intercutting the young woman's efforts to investigate what actually happened that fateful day with flashbacks to the horrific abuse she suffered for years at the hands of the meth-dealing Midwestern couple she was forced to call Father and Mother. Up until the jolting last-minute twists that lead to a somewhat clichéd conclusion, this makes for involving if unsettling reading. Genre fans will want to see more from this talented author. Agent: Richard Pine, Inkwell Management. (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Jenny Kristal was only 6 when she disappeared while walking to a friend's house. Twelve years later, a young woman claiming to be Jenny presents herself to the Long Island police, saying she'd like to go home to her parents, Jake and Laurie, and her older brother, Ben, who was 8 when Jenny went missing. While the FBI isn't quite satisfied with her story of the mysterious "Mother" and "Father" who abducted her, Jake and Laurie are beside themselves and don't hesitate to bring Jenny back into the fold. They're ecstatic that she remembers so much of her childhood with them before her abduction and are eager to get on with their lives. So is Jenny. But Ben has different plans. Jenny's disappearance took a heavy toll on him, and his welcome is not quite as warm. In fact, his attitude is downright hostile. After years of enduring one horror after another, Jenny fears that her newfound safety and security with her family may be fleeting, and a highly honed sense of self-preservation tells her that something isn't right in the Kristal house. Someone is slipping in and out of her bedroom during the night, and a cryptic phone call and ominous Facebook messages lead Jenny to believe that she may be in danger. The pseudonymous Barnett takes an all-too-common premise and winds it into a twisty and tense exploration of family secrets, survival, and the often blurred lines between fantasy and reality and predator and prey. And almost nothing is quite what it seems. Jenny is a shrewd observer of human nature and a frank and dryly humorous narrator, but is she a reliable one? Readers will likely think they know where this runaway train is headed, making the final twists that much more surprising. A creepy and darkly addictive thriller. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Barnett / SAFE ONE Forest Avenue, the neighborhood hub, three lanes on each side, with the Forest Avenue Diner--­early-­bird specials starting at five p.m., dessert and coffee included--­standing watch on the northwest corner, or was it the northeast corner? Note to self: Check which way's which. No matter, I remembered it. I'd eaten in that diner, a Sunday tradition for the Kristal family, starting when I was small enough to fit into one of those red plastic baby chairs. I wondered if they ate there now--­Mom and Dad and Ben--­maintaining the tradition against all odds, or if they'd long ago given it up, picked some other diner to eat their Sunday breakfasts in, or just stopped going out at all. Just as I passed it, the door flew open. I could smell a mixture of pancakes, syrup, and fried eggs wafting through the door. Okay, I was hungry. But then I was always hungry--­had been hungry as long as I could remember. I had what felt like two dollars scrunched in my jeans pocket. Not enough for a muffin or even one egg. Coffee maybe . . . but what good would that do? I floated on--­floating is what it felt like, as if I were hovering over this little neighborhood, like you do in a dream, when you're both in it and above it, everything half-­remembered and half-­not, things looking just the same and startlingly different. Just like me. It was late fall, warm enough to think about ditching my zippered jacket. The brown leaves littering the sidewalk were so brittle they crunched into dust when I stepped on them. I was making a game of it, in fact, not so much walking down the block as announcing my presence with each leaf-­obliterating step. Hello, I'm back . Advancing in a kind of zigzag pattern--­some of the shopkeepers had swept the leaves into piles, forcing me to lunge here and there to keep it going, wondering if I looked high on something, like someone staggering home after an all-­nighter. That's when I saw it--­when I locked eyes with my former six-­year-­old self. Such barely there eyes--­you really had to squint into the white void to see them. It was on a telephone pole outside a pizzeria. A dog was checking out the base of the pole, deciding whether or not it was going to grace it with its piss, the owner--­a middle-­aged woman--­languidly scrolling through her phone and pretty much acting as if she wasn't holding a leash with a dog attached to it. I wanted to walk up to that pole and take a good look, but dogs scared me. So I waited until the lady finally stopped staring at her cell and moved on, yanking the dog away in mid-­pee. It was kind of like looking in a mirror, I thought, when I stepped up to the poster, except it was more like a magic mirror where you can look back in time--­this parallel crazy world lurking just on the other side of it. I was coming back from that crazy world. And I was going to step back into my six-­year-­old room where all my toys were lined up just as I'd left them. Remember : The Bratz. Elmo. The two Barbies. A herd of plastic horses--­one of them a Palomino I'd named Goldy. Remember  . . . "Yoh." It took a second nasal yoh to understand that someone was actually speaking to me. A guy. Nothing new about that. Put me on a sidewalk somewhere and odds are some dude will come chat me up. He might've been older than me but was somehow dressed younger, a red bandanna poking out of the back pocket of his low-­slung jeans--­which were precariously balanced on his hipbones and showing an inch or more of ugly brown boxers. "You got a smoke?" he asked. "No." He still hung around; maybe he was showing off for his friends, since there seemed to be an audience of boys--­they looked like boys, too, younger than him--­lurking by the pizzeria entrance. "You're not from around here," he said, half as a question. "Who said ?" "Never seen you, thas all . . ." He was trying to grow in a goatee--­emphasis on trying , because it looked like the scraggly tufts you see on cancer patients. "Okay, you got me," I said. "So you're not . . . ?" "Not what ?" "From around here." "Sure I am. Just not lately ." "Oh . . ." He looked confused by that. Stared at the pole for a second, where I saw his eyes connect with mine. My old eyes. Before they saw a bunch of things they shouldn't have. He shifted his feet, seemingly out of things to say now. I turned away and resumed looking at the pole, a nonverbal Screw off . After a few more seconds, he took the hint--­okay, more of a directive--­and slunk away, mission still accomplished, I guess, since I heard muted hoots and high fives from the peanut gallery. When I glanced back at him, after finishing my face time with my own face--­what was left of it--­I saw him still staring at me, but this time without the put-­on smirk. Something else. For a moment, I thought I knew what it was. A look of recognition, only the kind where you're not sure what it is you're recognizing. No. Not possible. I walked on, faster than I'd intended, even if it was still kind of aimlessly, although I had a vague aim in mind. It didn't feel as if I were floating anymore. I was good and grounded. I felt a sudden gut-­gripping panic as people flowed past me on either side--­it was a Saturday , right? Lots of people out and about, enjoying the surprisingly balmy weather. I was being swallowed up by them--­this surging crowd that seemed in a hurry to get somewhere and to take me with them, and I'd been there, done that, thank you very much, uh-­uh. I was losing control of the situation. I was not the boss of me. Stop. Deep breaths. In, out. Deep breaths . . . I found myself leaning against a gray car in the middle of the sidewalk. Finding yourself doing something you didn't know you were doing was a weird feeling, as if I'd been sleepwalking and someone had just turned on the lights. I saw a woman staring at me--­someone with a stroller and a kid in it with a blue pacifier stuck in its mouth. Blue is for boy. She was hovering there, seeing what was up with me, I guess. "Are you . . . uh, okay?" She was suddenly next to me--­had left the stroller a few feet away to attend to this girl in a tan zippered jacket and dirty jeans. I wanted to say to her, Don't, don't leave that stroller. You don't know what can happen. You think you're this close to it, sure, but you're this close to the unimaginable. The unforgivable. Go back. That's what I wanted to say. But what I said was this: "I need a policeman. Please. I'm Jenny Kristal and I need a police­man." Excerpted from Safe: A Novel by S. K. Barnett All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.