LOSS, GRIEF, AND OVERCOMING IN PAULA MCLAIN’S WHEN THE STARS GO DARK

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McClain | Ballantine Books | Publishing 13 April 2021

Anna Hart is a missing persons specialist, one who takes her work seriously, who allows herself to be haunted by the ghosts of the missing and dead children she searches for. When she leaves home for her hometown of Mendocino she doesn’t expect for the pull of these ghosts to drag her into another missing persons case. But they do. And as Anna throws herself into her work she is forced to confront other ghosts, ones from her own life, who she wasn’t able to save.


McClain brings her literary style and considerable talent to When the Stars Go Dark, a thriller that is more a journey into loss, grief, and terror than it is a traditional mystery. The reader sees the world (and the case) through Anna’s eyes, but we are also invited into the world of trauma, grief, and all the ways we hold ourselves accountable for the terrible things we wish we could’ve prevented, whether they were ours to be accountable for or not.

McClain crafts a beautifully told literary thriller that seems to elevate the tropes of the thriller into something more cerebral. In fact, the mystery is secondary to the internal life of Anna Hart. (This is a choice that worked for me, but it does slow down the narrative and the story loses the heartbeat pace of a traditional thriller because of it.) The moments when the story does veer into traditional thriller territory (jump scares and found bodies), the moments clash against the rest of the prose and startle you back to reality.

Both a literary thriller and the story of a human fighting against nature to come to terms with her history, When the Stars Go Dark is a read for sweet spring nights when you’re ready to leave winter behind and get lost in the woods.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thank you to Ballantine Books for providing me with an ARC for review.

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