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Book Review: Monsters Among Us?

I stopped reading Stephen King and the horror genre years ago, but recently picked up Vermont author Jennifer McMahon’s latest novel, “The Children on the Hill,” just out from Simon & Schuster.

I couldn’t put it down.

There are secrets in this family, living near a famous mental hospital in rural Vermont. The grandmother heads the psychiatric unit with compassion and raises three children who adore her. The children create a monster-hunting club, watch “Bride of Frankenstein” at the drive-in, and create a book about how to defeat monsters. A renowned psychiatrist is investigating how to reform damaged minds and bring them back to health.

And in this Vermont town, a recent abduction of a young girl has terrified the residents: Is there a monster among us?

For the reader, there are a lot of scares as the children try to understand their world, their past, and the true nature of those who love them. The plot also echoes those monsters and scary situations and places we recall terrifying us as children, and perhaps still do in our dreams. As a reader, I found myself trying to unravel the mystery, especially drawn to the slippery narration: Who is reliable? Who is not what they seem? And who — or what — is the monster?

McMahon also weaves in a shameful episode from Vermont’s past. Not willing to tip off her brilliant plot, I’ll say no more about that.

Vermont author Chris Bohjalian praises McMahon as the “literary descendent of Shirley Jackson.” Like the Vermont writer of “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House,” McMahon masterfully draws readers into a creepy environment, mysterious characters, and a rural Vermont setting. It was primarily her skill in creating psychological suspense, however, that drew me to speed through her eleventh novel. 

“The Children on the Hill” by Jennifer McMahon is available at local bookstores or online.