Frightful Friday: Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s featured book is Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Original edition (May 17, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0061689378
  • Source: Publisher
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    Fifteen years ago, a twelve-year-old girl named Lisa walks into a Vermont forest, never to be seen again. This forest contained a small town called Reliant.  The residents of this town all disappeared one day in 1918, never to be seen again.  Food was left on the table, lifestock in the fields.  The only “survivor” was Lisa’s grandfather, Eugene O’Toole, an infant at the time.

    Reliance was full of ghosts.  That’s what some folks in town said, anyway.  People claimed they saw green lights, mist that turned into a man who walked the edge of the woods, mumbling in a language no one had ever heard before….’People just don’t disappear without a trace like that-not a whole town anyway.  You kids shouldn’t play out there.

    Yet Reliance was exactly where the kids were playing. Lisa, her younger brother Sam, and cousin Evie, spent days running through the forest and investigating the ruined buildings of the homes of Reliant, now just stone cellars. Lisa starts finding items amoung the rubble, a shiny penny with a hole in it, circa 1918. Lisa becomes fascinated about the lore of the forest and the fairies that reportedly live there. She hopes to one day meet Teilo, the king of the Fairies. Then one day, it appears that dream comes true.

    Fifteen years later, present day, Sam is in his twenties and is dating Phoebe, a woman in her thirties. He doesn’t talk much about his sister’s disappearance. Phoebe remembers the day Lisa went missing, not realizing that Sam was her brother until years later, he takes her home to meet his family. Strange things begin to occur: a phone call leads them to discover a “Fairy Book” hidden in the attic wall. They receive notes in mailboxes: “I am back from the land of fairies. I’ll be seeing you soon.”

    Sam must open up to Phoebe so they can get to the bottom of these mysterious activities. He’s forced to reveal a secret, a secret he’s vowed for years to keep.

    In Don’t Breathe a Word, the reader moves between the past and present in alternating chapters. Both the reader, and the main characters within the story, have no clue as to the idendity of Lisa’s abductor, or what really happened that fateful summer. This tinge of the unknown really added suspense to the story. As with McMahon’s other books, there is a clear and definite supernatural tinge to the story, but in this case it also includes a bit of fantasy. What little girl doesn’t love to play fairies? In this case, however, the fairies in question aren’t beautiful and sparkly, but instead left me with chills. Admittedly when I first learned this book dealt with fairies, I was a bit skeptical. However, the mystery that is unveiled monopolizes the fantasy aspect, a key benefit in my opinion. By the end, it is up to the reader to determine what the truth is, it’s not laid out obviously but instead must be contemplated and discovered.

    The main characters, Sam & Phoebe, both have had their share of childhood trauma. Sam’s sister disappears, his father battles depression, attempting suicide multiple times, never really returning to normal. Phoebe was raised by an alcoholic mother who believes it would have been best if she’d just drowned Phoebe when she was a baby. These two characters are well drawn and rich with detail. It’s not hard for the reader to feel for both of them and hope for a better, happier life for them both.

    I’d be remiss not to mention the book’s cover. Like McMahon’s other books, the cover of Don’t Breathe a Word is stark, frightening, literally in your face.  The look on the little girl’s face sends chills down your spine, a characteristic that remains through the entirety of the book.

    Don’t Breathe a Word is so rich with details, layers to the storyline that I found myself discovering new things each time I read it. A clear storyline is family secrets, quite devastating histories long hidden. While appearing overly dark,  this book would appeal to a vast variety of readers, lending this to be a perfect book club read. I would even recommend this to young adults, who may be interested in the fantasy aspect of the book. Highly recommended.

    Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book.  Please be sure to check out the previous stops on this tour:

    Tuesday, May 17th: Wordsmithonia
    Wednesday, May 18th: Tina’s Book Reviews
    Thursday, May 19th: Crazy for Books
    Tuesday, May 24th: The Lost Entwife
    Wednesday, May 25th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
    Thursday, May 26th: Unabridged Chick
    Monday, May 30th: Stephanie’s Written Word
    Wednesday, June 1st: The Bodacious Pen
    Thursday, June 2nd: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
    Monday, June 6th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
    Wednesday, June 8th: In the Next Room
    Monday, June 13th: A Bookworm’s World
    Wednesday, June 15th: Rundpinne

    10 thoughts on “Frightful Friday: Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon

    1. Hi Jenn! This is such a neat meme. I checked out last weeks post too…Mrs. Perrigrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is on my TBR list. I’m trying to put together a list of memes on my blog. If you want to add yours, just hop over there, leave a comment and I’ll add it.


    2. I’m still thinking about this book and getting the creeps from that odd little girl on the cover. It was my first McMahon book and I went and bought her whole backlist after I finished it. I’ve read one and have two more to go. Really an intriguing read for me.



    3. I didn’t read your review too thoroughly because I’m in the middle of this book myself right now and I didn’t want to ruin anything. :)

      I’m glad you enjoyed this one! It isn’t what I usually read but I got a copy at BEA and have heard such fantastic things that I decided to give it a shot. So far so good!

      Thanks for being on the tour Jenn.



    4. The cover creeped me out when I was reading it. I kept it so I only had to look at the back cover when I wasn’t reading it. I agree that McMahon does have a way with suspense.




    5. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading This Week? | Jenn's Bookshelves

    6. I have this on my shelf to read, but I’ll admit I’ve been wimpy and avoiding it … your comment that it’s a great book group pick (and may appeal to young adults) pushes me to read it sooner than later!


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