I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier
Published by Minotaur Books on April 21, 2020
From the author of Jar of Hearts, a mother driven to the edge by the disappearance of her son learns her husband is having an affair with the woman who might have kidnapped him.Four hundred and eighty seconds. That’s how long it took for someone to steal Marin Machado's four-year-old son.
Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They're admired in their community and are a loving family. Up until the day Sebastian is taken.
A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. The only thing keeping her going is the unlikely chance that one day Sebastian reappears. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding him, she discovers that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman.
Kenzie Li is an artist and grad student—Instagram famous—and up to her eyeballs in debt. She knows Derek is married. She also knows he's rich, and dating him comes with perks: help with bills, trips away, expensive gifts. He isn't her first rich boyfriend, but she finds herself hoping he'll be the last. She's falling for him—and that was never part of the plan.
Discovery of the affair sparks Marin back to life. She's lost her son; she's not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix. But as she sets a plan in motion, another revelation surfaces. Derek's lover might know what happened to their son. And so might Derek.
It is no secret that I adore Jennifer Hillier’s writing. I read Jar of Hearts last April, and it remains one of my favorite thrillers, and is one I always recommend when someone seeks thriller recommendations from me. Everything I love in a thriller wrapped up in one neat, tight package that I devoured. So when I saw her latest novel, Little Secrets, available on NetGalley I slammed that request button and immediately dusted off my Kindle to read it. I am so glad I did.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Marin and Derek are your typical affluent suburban couple – they are rich beyond measure, and are blessed with a perfect little boy named Sebastian (which makes them metaphorically, emotionally rich as well). They live in a perfect little Instagrammable bubble world, and nothing could possibly change that – until one day Marin lets Sebastian’s hand go in a store for a split-second and he disappears. Store footage later shows him leaving the shop with a man in a Santa Claus costume, holding a giant $5 gourmet lollipop. But no one knows who this Santa was, and Sebastian was not seen in any other footage found. In a split second – 480 split seconds, to be exact – Santa Claus took Marin and Derek’s perfect four year old son, and nobody has seen him since.
It’s been over a year, now. Merin is a shell of a person – absolutely gutted and riddled with relentless guilt over having let go of her son’s hand so carelessly, so willingly. Her marriage is crumbling – Derek handles his grief differently, it seems, and Marin’s mourning is really putting a damper on his excellent rich white guy lifestyle. While she still manages to work and keep afloat, Marin’s lifesaver at this point is her lifelong friend, Sal, who checks on her each and every day. And Vanessa Castro, the private investigator she’s paid to ceaselessly look for Sebastian.
What Marin does not expect, however, is for Castro to sit her down one day and tell her that while she hasn’t found Sebastian, she has found out that Derek is cheating on her – with a young, sexy twenty-something graduate student named McKenzie Li. Kenzie, who has a few secrets of her own. Marin would do anything to get rid of this tart, this homewrecker – and I mean anything.
The Bottom Line
I can’t say a whole lot more, because the plot twists and turns are what made Little Secrets so addictive – it’s like a breadcrumb trail of revelations that shock and surprise you and keep you guessing. While I have never lost a child – nor has Hillier – Marin is written in such a relatable way that you feel like you’re right there next to her – going to her support group, dreading every phone call with a twinge in your gut. I’ve lost a spouse, and while it’s not the same as losing a child it’s definitely a unique, hard to explain loss that twists a knife in your heart – it’s even harder when they’re lost but “lost” is not necessarily synonymous with “dead” in this case. Sebastian could have been dead for months now, or he could be just fine and in hiding. I cannot even imagine what a throat punch that must be, but Hillier really puts us there.
We get a dual perspective here, though it doesn’t flip back and forth every chapter but rather from part to part for the most part. We hear not just from Marin, but from Kenzie – we are told that we hate Kenzie in the beginning while we are inside Marin’s head, but of course getting inside of Kenzie’s adds another layer and makes her more multifaceted than a generic villain. Kenzie is young and smart, ruthless and sharp – she has a long history as the sidepiece to many rich, married men and she has no qualms about extorting them for money to get by, to keep her ailing mother in her retirement community. But this one is different, because Kenzie is falling for Derek in a way she’s never fallen for any of these guys before. And that presents a problem. You feel for her, too, even though you desperately don’t want to.
This story is a haunting, captivating thrill ride – not just about loss of a child or revenge, but about who you really know, how far you’d go to save a life or get revenge on another. How much can we ever really, truly know another person? This is a captivating, thought-provoking read that will stick to my bones for a long time to come. I cannot wait to read Hillier’s next book, and hope I have the privilege of reading an arc of that one, too.
“She is enraged. She feels it washing over her like hot wax, coasting her outsides, hardening like an armored shell over all the soft, squishy, vulnerable, unprotected places.
She welcomes it. It’s been a long time since she felt anger like this, and she’ll take anger over sadness, any day. For the past four hundred eight-six days, sadness has knocked her sideways, debilitated her, confused her, made her weak, talked her into settling for things she doesn’t want, and never did.
Rage, on the other hand, will get shit done.”