In one of those strange coincidences only the Universe can explain, around the time advance copies of Koethi Zan’s debut novel The Never List were being printed, the world was riveted by the newscasts reporting the rescue of three women from a cellar dungeon in Cleveland Ohio. What is truly scary is how similar the novel’s underlying premise is to the actual horrors perpetrated upon these women.
Like the real-life victims, the women in Koethi Zan’s novel are subjected to physical and emotional torture, the scars of which will be with them forever. While nothing can compare to what the actual victims suffered, be prepared for a harrowing experience while reading this novel.
Sarah and Jennifer have been life-long friends. After a tragedy in their youth, they have both become extra precautious in almost every area of their lives. So much so, that they create the Never List – a list of actions they swear never to engage in. The list contains things like not drinking and driving, not accepting rides from strangers, and avoiding going places alone. It is not without irony that in their one moment of transgression from the mandates of this Never List, they find themselves in the worst possible situation.
Kidnapped and locked away in a dark and dank basement, the two girls discover they are not the first victims of this madman. Locked away in the prison with them are two other girls. These girls have been held captive for a very long time and it is clear that Sarah and Jennifer are going to face the same fate if they are unable to escape.
In the early sections of the book, Zan alternates telling readers the story of how the girls found themselves victims of this psychopath with chapters that detail the terror of their lives within this house of horrors. Fairly quickly, readers are told that Sarah was able to escape from this horrific situation, but that it came at a hefty price – Jennifer did not make it out of the cellar prison. Slowly, Zan begins to reveal the struggles in Sarah’s life as she tries to adjust to normal living again after such a damaging experience.
The second half of the book becomes an odd sort of buddy novel, in which Sarah recruits the other girls (who also escaped captivity) to accompany her on a mission she feels she must complete in order to honor the memory of her closest friend. Reluctant to help each other, the three girls forge new bonds as they maneuver through a minefield of memories. Their journey together uncovers additional horrors and once again brings them close to their worst fears.
Koethi Zan excels at creating characters whose motivations are honest and genuine. Each of the girls, including the absent Jennifer, is given unique traits which reinforce their existence as individuals rather than a collection of victimized women. How these three girls react to their life of freedom shows that who we become is as much about who we are inside as it is about what we have gone through in our lives.
An astute study in the psychological effects of long-term captivity, Koethi Zan’s The Never List will keep you up half the night reading and the other half fearing the existence of this type of evil in the world.
Disclaimer: A physical galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.