All These Beautiful Strangers makes for a pretty killer debut


If you’d rather have chills than something steamy on vacation, All These Beautiful Strangers could be the book for you this summer.

Even after Pretty Little Liars has gone off the air, there’s still a subgenre out there of pretty (mostly white) privileged people with dark secrets. Big Little Lies is the grown-up version of this; meanwhile, All These Beautiful Strangers, sent to me by William Morrow, sort of splits the difference between the two. (It’s already been optioned by one of Big Little Lies‘ producers, per press materials.) Although it’s concerned with a long-ago incident, the present is loaded with ramifications, and the past pops up in the form of literal flashback chapters.

This is Elizabeth Klehfoth’s first published novel, and it shows in a lot of ways. I’m still not sure how exactly the resolution works. (To tell how would be to spoil the novel.) Moreover, the epilogue feels mostly tacked on. Although there are some touches on the idea of economic privilege, it feels particularly unexplored, as does the occasional hint that there’s something legitimately wrong with the Calloway family.

However, Klehfoth does have a story here that’s perfect for taking on a vacation.

Charlie and Grace Calloway both get to narrate their own chapters of this novel. Charlie serves as the main character, even though Grace herself is really the subject as a missing mother presumed to have stolen some of the Calloway fortune and run off years ago. What happened to her, and even who she was as a person, are two of the key questions in the novel, and Klehfoth carefully shows us multiple perspectives of her.

Charlie isn’t necessarily afforded the same multifaceted portrayal, but she does have some traits that seem particularly worth exploring. She’s pretty manipulative, and to be in her head as she does what only comes naturally to her is quite the ride. She does get called out for her behaviors, but it’s something that probably could have been developed just a bit more.

That’s really one of Klehfoth’s strengths: quite a few of the characters here are multidimensional. Unfortunately, it also highlights that not everyone has the same well-roundedness, or at least not to the same extent. In some cases, we’re only told about darker sides of some characters in passing without getting to see it, so to speak.

Despite that, though, there is a fascinating dual mystery here: what happened to Grace, and what are the A’s doing? Secret societies at schools certainly still intrigue the imagination; Klehfoth’s contribution, although somewhat oddly named, doesn’t slouch. The former is perhaps more interesting than the latter, but both move things along.

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If you buy what the book is selling, don’t be surprised if it flies by.