All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth, published by Penguin on 19th July 2018
Charlie Calloway has a life most people would kill for - a tight-knit family, a loyal set of friends, and top grades a privileged boarding school. But Charlie's never been interested in what most people want. Like all Calloways, she's been taught that she's different, special - better. So when her school's super-exclusive secret society extends a mysterious invitation, Charlie's determination to get in is matched only by her conviction that she belongs there.
But their secrets go deeper than she knows.
Charlie finds herself thrust into the centre of a decades-old mystery - one that implicates her family in not one terrible crime, but two. Uncovering their past may destroy everything she knows - or give her the answer she's always craved: Who or what was behind her mother's disappearance ten years ago?
'All These Beautiful Strangers' is described as Cruel Intentions meets Gossip Girl with a hint of The Secret History. It sounded exactly like the kind of book that I love. I'm a big fan of YA thrillers and I was even more intrigued after reading the blurb which hinted at a hidden mystery waiting to be unravelled.
The story is set at Knollwood Prep, an exclusive boarding school. I can never resist the lure of a boarding school setting which I think dates back to my days of enjoying the Chalet School books. It adds a sense of suffocation and claustrophobia, as well as functioning almost as an exclusive society with it's own set of specific rules. The main character, Charlie Calloway, is one of the privileged pupils and appears to have it all. At the beginning of the story she is invited to try joining the school's secret society which involves having to complete a series of almost impossible challenges. As she attempts to gain her place within the society, she also becomes embroiled in the secret of her mother's disappearance ten years ago. As she begins to connect the dots, long-buried secrets finally threaten to become exposed.
The plot switches backwards and forwards between Charlie in 2017 and her mother Grace in 2007. It was interesting to see her mother's life unravelling as Charlie begins to realise that the events of the past and the present are linked together. I actually think I enjoyed the Grace chapters more than the ones from Charlie's perspective. Probably because Charlie wasn't immensely likable and there seemed to be a lot of flaws in her character. She definitely matures a lot throughout the book though and there's hope that she will be a better person by the end of the story. I also wasn't madly keen on any of the male figures which was a shame because there were one or two who had real potential.
I enjoyed the mystery element to the plot and finding out what really happened to Grace so many years ago. I definitely didn't have any inkling about who was going to be involved, so it was nice to feel completely surprised when the big reveal finally came. This is a pretty long book at nearly 500 pages and while I thought that the mystery was well written and plotted, it was possibly a bit too drawn out and a tad long in places. It felt like some of the suspense was slightly lost owing to the length of the story and the pace might have benefited from a few cuts here and there. Saying that, the ending fell a little flat because it all seemed a bit rushed in the final chapters. Suddenly everything was wrapped up quite quickly and I was still left with a few unanswered questions.
If you enjoy YA thrillers and you're looking for mystery and suspense then this could be your kind of book. I would have liked it to have been more fast-paced but overall it was very good and I didn't find it easy to put down once I'd started it. Overall, a terrific debut and I look forward to reading more by Elizabeth Klehfoth in the future.