Book review #1: The Reappearance of Rachel Price by Holly Jackson

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Let me preface this review by saying that “A good girl’s guide to murder” was one of the 3 books that have reignited my love for reading and marked my venture into all things bookish (before I even knew what that meant). It’s one of those books I recommend to everyone – my mom, people who read, people who don’t read, my neighbor, my cat…. You name it. What I’m trying to say is that I am an enjoyer of Holly Jackson’s writing style and a solid, cozy mystery she ties together with fast-paced chapters and likeable characters.

“The Reappearance of Rachel Price” is the last entry in Holly Jackson’s bibliography and it’s one that I found reads significantly different compared to her previous entries.

Let’s dive in.

PART ONE: where I try not to actively spoil the whole story for you

“The Reappearance of Rachel Price” centers around an 18-year-old Bel whose mother has been missing for 16 years. Despite her absence, she seems to haunt every aspect of Bel’s life. Some people pity Bel for it, others treat her story as a sensational mystery. During a filming of a documentary on Rachel’s disappearance, which opens many an old wound in Bel and her family, Rachel reappears. Her reappearance comes with a lot of heavy, complicated feelings on Bel’s part and the plot thickens from there.

The first thirteen chapters are a slow burn. This has caught me off-guard because in all of Holly Jackson’s previous entries, I’ve been hooked from the very first word – chapter one, insta-love kinda deal. Bel’s story took a while to kick-off but once it did, I was back to the page-turning machine that I was during Pip’s story.

The plot-twist was satisfying as Holly Jackson’s slow-burn set up paid off in the end. It wasn’t what I was expecting but I was glad that the story ended the way it did – mostly because the type of characters that I root for usually have “won”.

If you’re an enjoyer of a slow-burn story with a twisty ending and a cheeky main character who isn’t afraid to break some rules as a means to an end, I would recommend this title to you.

The next 3 parts contain spoilers so proceed with care if you haven’t read the novel yet.

PART TWO: She who knocks like a serial killer

Now, to tie into the slow-burn comment I made in the previous section. The reason why I think this book felt more like a slow-burn in the first dozen chapters is because the mystery in this story takes place a lot closer to home for the main character than it did in the previous entries. I spent a lot of time thinking about this because it came as a shock for me that it took me a while to get through the first 100 pages which hasn’t been an issue for me with any of the previous Holly Jackson’s titles. The reason for that was Bel. And then the realization hit me.

For Pippa, the mystery wasn’t personal, it wasn’t related to her in particular so she could dissect it and have relatively neutral feelings towards it – at least in the beginning. The slow-burn in “The Reappearance of Rachel Price” is necessary because Bel is the direct victim of the main mystery/event of the story. As such, the way she processes these events and how she relates to the people and the world around her are way more personal. This has, in turn, made her into a more cynical, closed-off person than Pippa was. Than Red even, to an extent.

At first, I disliked Bel for this. Mostly because I didn’t understand her and couldn’t relate to her feelings and behavior towards other people. Even though you objectively cannot blame her for thinking everybody would leave her eventually so she chooses not to get attached in the first place. These feelings of not belonging combined with a hint of “attitude” towards other characters made me roll my eyes at the pages at the start.

When Rachel reappeared and Bel had a hard time finding a place for her in her own life, this attitude of hers started to make sense – if she doesn’t accept her mother’s return, her mother technically can’t leave her again.

But then Bel’s suspicions started to yield some convincing evidence and I was absolutely hooked. Just like that, how I feel about Bel has changed – despite my original animosity towards her at the start, I began believing her conspiracy theories against her own mother even though a part of me was still secretly rooting for Rachel.

This brings me to the crux of this section – I believe Bel was secretly rooting for Rachel too. Bel is a series of contradictions woven together by a decade old trauma and fear surrounding the person who, in reality, loved her the most – her mother.

You can definitely read this whole section as my apology to Bel for misunderstanding her so badly when I first picked up this novel.

PART THREE: She had me in the first half

What I liked the most about this story is that it had genuinely convinced me that Rachel can’t possibly be the good guy. It was the most fun tug of war I’ve read in a long time. Except, it was not a tug of war at all since Rachel made no effort to not appear suspicious at any given time. What I’m trying to say is that Bel was doing most of the tugging while Rachel stood as still as a mountain. Rachel had a counter to every accusation but none of them were perfect, they all left just enough room for you to think: “Yeah, she is definitely sus”.

All of this falls apart after it has been revealed that Rachel had been held captive by her husband’s father because her husband wanted her dead and this captivity was the mercy she had been given instead. Suddenly, all the pieces we were missing started to fall into place. The enemy has indeed been living in Bel’s house, as she originally thought, but it wasn’t the enemy she wanted it to be. Or rather, the enemy she needed it to be.

Rachel gained my sympathy immediately, firstly because I cannot imagine the horrors she’s been through and secondly because a secret part of me was hoping this would happen. Seeing the story unfold in a way that gave Bel and Rachel the ending they deserved was a cherry on top. My favorite part of Holly Jackson’s books is how she always makes sure her characters receive the catharsis they deserve after the messy ordeals they’ve been through.

While the ending here is more on the bittersweet side since Rachel and Bel can never get that time that was stolen from them, as a reader you still feel like there’s hope that they will make the best that they can with the new time they’ve been given.

PART FOUR: from ashes to a compelling sidekick

This review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about Ash, the camera assistant. He was a character I didn’t expect to like, a member of the documentary crew who is kinda just there to me. But then he kept being there in his ridiculous clothes and his unwavering faith in Bel and her quest to uncover the truth. It was so refreshing to see a character not fight Bel on her theories.

It’s important to remember that Bel’s own dad also tried to gaslight her into believing nothing is there to investigate and to just let it be (we know why now but at the time it was frustrating to see her dad not back her up when even he’s been acting out of character when it came to Rachel). Bel having a support system in Ash was a good choice.

I only wish we had more of Ash and Bel interactions throughout the story – the scenes where the two of them are together are noticeably lighter in tone and Bel’s usual darker train of thought transforms into banter. And was that banter a joy to read.

PART FIVE: Rating

characters: ★★★☆☆

premise: ★★★★☆

plot twist: ★★★★☆

spook factor: ★☆☆☆☆

enjoyment factor: ★★★★☆

At its core, this was gripping story with an interesting concept and characters who make you wonder whose side is it safe to pick and whether you live with the choice you’ve made. Highly recommended by yours truly.

PART SIX: a brief dedication to “Kill Joy”

Consider this section of the post as a footnote of the whole review. I know I am super late to the “Kill Joy” party but I’ve only just recently gotten my hands on it. “Kill Joy” is a prequel to “A good girl’s guide to murder” in which Pip joins a murder-mystery party. Pip plays along but shows a degree of hesitance about the whole thing.

However, as the night unravels, Pip settles into her role and shows us but a shadow of what she is going to be in the main series. The grand reveal was my favorite thing about this story – Pip sold me her theory, I was rooting for her and she even made me proud like “Yep, that’s our Pip”.

Then the twist happened and my jaw was on the floor. It was so simple but it gave me a mighty good laugh. And what more can you ask for? If you have an hour to spare, give this lil’ novel a try.

We have now come to an end of the very first review on this blog! If you’ve read this far, thank you and I hope you stick around for the next one.

  • May 25, 2024