Picking up a Jennifer Hillier novel is a guaranteed way to ensure a few evenings of missed sleep. This is an author who knows how to put her readers through an emotional wringer in the midst of an anxiety-fueled plot designed to distract and entertain. Hillier’s previous novel, Jar of Hearts, was loved by fans and made the BOLO Books Top Reads of 2018 list – at the very top spot. Next week, Jennifer Hillier returns with Little Secrets and to say that she has thrown down the gauntlet doesn’t quite do the book complete justice, but it is a good start.
Little Secrets begins with Marin Machado and her young son, Sebastian, shopping for a few last-minute presents just before Christmas. Seattle’s Pike Place Market is packed and Bash is cranky and needy after the exhausting adventure. It only take a moment, but when Marin is distracted, she loses sight of Sebastian. Frantic and scared, Marin gets in touch with her husband Derek, who in turn notifies the police. Hours later, there is video footage of Sebastian being led away from the mall by someone dressed as Santa Claus.
Most writers would use this as the launching point for a novel about the search for Sebastian and the slow revelation of what happened to him. But Jennifer Hillier is anything but typical; she has no interest in that more familiar story. What Hillier wants to explore is the emotional effect such a loss would have on this mother and the pressure that it puts on her marriage. With that goal in mind, Jennifer Hillier documents the strain and stress, the guilt and fear, the endless nights and numb days, through which Marin Machado endures.
Eventually, Marin hires a private investigator to help with the search for Sebastian. Unfortunately, what this woman uncovers instead is an unfaithful husband, which is the last thing Marin expects or needs. In communication with her best friend, Marin comes up with a plan to save her marriage at any cost. It is this decision that sets in motion the entirety of the novel – a thrilling ride that requires the reader to strap themselves in. Even as they witness the pitfalls, readers can’t help but root for Marin. This is a woman who as been through enough.
The majority of Little Secrets is told from Marin’s point of view. This method bonds the reader with Marin in a way that is important, but there is another vital piece of the puzzle who is given a voice. Occasional chapters and one larger section near the middle of the book are told from the perspective of Derek’s mistress, McKenzie Li. This is vital to the structure of the novel and allows Jennifer Hillier to embed some clues, red herrings, and important information needed for the unexpected trajectory this novel is about to take.
Jennifer Hillier is a Filipino author, so you can bet she is interested in the lack of diversity in crime fiction. She does her part by populating her novels with as diverse a cast of characters as possible. With Little Secrets, in particular, Hillier does this in such a subtle way that makes it all the more powerful. Jennifer Hillier pushes back against the norm of having all characters be assumed as “white” by default. Without calling attention to it, she allows the varied canvas of her cast to make themselves known and forces the reader to check their unintentional bias at the door.
Little Secrets will appear on many “Best Of” lists as we head into the second half of 2020. Jennifer Hillier continues to produce unique novels that defy expectations, prove to be immensely enjoyable, and are ultimately unforgettable. Placing one’s trust in an author is a precarious proposition, but with Jennifer Hillier, readers can always count on her to have their back – with the goal always being the most satisfying journey for her fans…at any cost.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.