About the Book

Title: Nightingale
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: I Know Why The Caged Bird Screams
BFF Charm: Hell No
Talky Talk: Two Truths And A Lie
Bonus Factor: Asylum
Relationship Status: I’m Not Saying It Was The Aliens, But…

Content Warning: this book contains instances of abuse, ableism, horrific treatments for mental illness, sexual assault, and the usual sort of gore you’d expect from a horror novel.

Cover Story: I Know Why the Caged Bird Screams

Why is this girl hanging upside down over a birdcage? Is she performing a Mission-Impossible-style heist to free the bird? Or is she—and this will become a theme—crazy? That and the fact that her hair seems to form the bars of the cage is enough to convey “This is a creepy horror book!” I kind of love it.

The Deal:

June Ellen Hardie is an aspiring writer in a lily-white, upper-middle-class suburb in 1951 America. Her family would prefer that she aspire to be a proper young lady instead, ready to get hitched and start popping out babies upon high school graduation. June is a terrible cook and has little interest in the domestic arts—let alone putting on pretty dresses and lipstick to lure a man. She’d be crazy to turn down Robert, the handsome son of her father’s business partner. She’d be crazy to run away to a writer’s retreat instead of planning her wedding. And maybe her parents are right—maybe she is actually insane, because she’s been sent to an asylum, and no one will believe her when she says her parents were replaced by aliens.

BFF Charm: Hell No

Hell No BFF Charm in Flames

I feel terribly for June, whether she’s got a legitimate mental illness or the aliens really are conspiring against her…but whichever it may be, the last ten percent of the book guaranteed that I am staying far, far away from this lady.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

It’s hard to get into a romantic mood when people are dying left and right, and the doctors in charge may or may not be aliens performing lobotomies, but that doesn’t stop June from getting her needs met—including one fairly explicit, steamy scene in the asylum itself. There actually is a pretty sweet romantic subplot, but don’t go into this thinking it will be a feel-good story of a star-crossed relationship.

Talky Talk: Two Truths And A Lie

Truth: I love unreliable narrators, and June’s story is a great example. It is impossible to gauge what is the truth, what is a lie, and what June believes is the truth. Is she “crazy” because she’s not the perfect white all-American domestic ideal, or is she mentally ill? Or worse—are the aliens real?

Truth: I had no idea whether I liked this book until about the last quarter, when I realized just how deep the unreliable narration went. Nightingale is the sort of book that demands your attention even after you’ve finished. Sometimes the language feels a little anachronistic, but that contributes to the discombobulating feeling the reader gets from June’s story. Is any of this real?

Lie: I didn’t love this book.

Bonus Factor: Asylum

All you have to do is say the words “this is set in an asylum,” and my finger is already hovering over the Goodreads “Want To Read” button. Aliens are creepy, but I will always be more horrified about the very real things that humans do to each other.

Relationship Status: I’m Not Saying It Was The Aliens, But…

I read this book feeling like I was possessed by the soul of the Ancient Aliens guy. I’m not saying it was the aliens, but IT WAS TOTALLY THE ALIENS, and why can’t June hear me screaming at my e-reader? GET OUT OF THERE! Save yourself! (Don’t read this at 3am in the dark, is all I’m saying.) If you’re buying this one for actual young adults, I’d recommend it for older teens.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Harlequin Teen. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Nightingale is available now.