Review: “If You See Her,” Ania Ahlborn

Pros: Incredibly intense!
Cons: Very bleak and depressing
Rating: 5 out of 5

Ania Ahlborn’s If You See Her introduces us to Jesse, who’s graduating high school. He and his best friends Reed and Casey decide to visit an abandoned house; it’s a place where Casey likes to take photos, and Reed’s a bit obsessed with it. But ever since a childhood prank, the place has scared Jesse. When Reed takes his own life by jumping from the fourth floor, Jesse’s life is forever changed. Gone are his dreams of being a writer and leaving his isolated, dying town. We catch up with him a couple of decades later. He’s married to his high school crush, LouEllen, and has a baby named Ian. He’s a recovering alcoholic and an English teacher at the local high school. When Casey comes to him and asks him to accompany him back to the Old Mill house, Jesse doesn’t want to go–but his wife and a friend convince him it might be good for closure. Unfortunately, it’s just going to send Jesse hurtling toward madness.

I’ve given this book a 5 out of 5, but to be honest, I’m not entirely glad I read it. The marital difficulties that arise between Jesse and LouEllen as he heads on his downward spiral are all too real, and frankly it was depressing as hell. The amount of bleak despair in here was very difficult to read. If you want that kind of “real” horror, though, this is most definitely the book for you. It’s incredibly intense and well-written. I’m kind of amazed that Ahlborn managed to fit that much despair onto the page. Things start to get weirder and weirder around Jesse–he’s losing time, and he’s always angry. He’s having nightmares of a creepy girl who lives in the Old Mill house and who’s either having a complete mental breakdown or possessed by a demon of some sort.

The characters have a lot of depth. Even ones we only see once or twice, like LouEllen’s brother Thomas or the principal at Jesse’s school, are interesting and complex. The pacing is amazing, getting more and more intense as it goes. All in all, this is an extremely well-written book–but also extremely difficult to read. Content warning for suicide.

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