Book Review: The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book with a three-word title Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book th...

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book with a three-word title

Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's published in 2020, A book with a great first line, A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins (wrath), A book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads

TW: Child death, variations of abuse (child, domestic, relationship), mentions of harm/death to animals, graphic violence, sexual assault/rape, mentions of suicide, pedophilia

I was so excited to hear about and have the chance to read The Familiar Dark. I absolutely loved Engel's last name, The Roanoke Girls, and I recommend it to folks all the time. Roanoke was beautiful, poetic, and immensely disturbing, and I was expecting much of the same with The Familiar Dark.

In the smallest and poorest part of the Ozarks, Eve Taggert was born, grew up, and had a daughter of her own. As a young, unwed mother, she did her best to raise Junie to be her own woman in a happy and safe environment. So when Junie is found brutally murdered in the park alongside her best friend Izzy, Eve must venture back into her own past to find the grit and darkness she had in her youth, and assert vengeance for her daughter's death. 

I was expecting a lot of very lyrical prose and maybe more switched perspective. I wanted a book and story that felt as beautiful and haunting as The Roanoke Girls, but I guess nothing good ever comes from comparison. Familiar is certainly haunting. It's brutal and hard to read straight from the start. It's violent and graphic, and not for the faint of heart.

The story was good, but unfortunately seemed predictable in many ways. There was a big twist I didn't see coming that was very shocking. I just felt like, overall, the story was fairly short (less than 250 pages), and it all seemed too rushed. I felt like there was just something missing, and I needed more to the story. I also felt like the wrap-up was incredibly rushed. For how the story ended, there should've been more time in the story to process. There was closure, in a way, but it didn't feel as satisfying as I had hoped.

This entire book is about Eve, but I personally wanted more information about her brother, their relationship with their mother, and I really wanted to know more about young Junie. Maybe that would have made it all sadder somehow, but I think it would have also had me more invested as a reader.

"No one wanted to eat pie and shoot the shit with a murdered girl's mother hovering around, eyes red-rimmed and soul cut out." - The Familiar Dark, Amy Engel

There's absolutely no doubt that Amy Engel is an extremely talented writer, and I'm sure I'll pick up any other novels that she releases. I just wasn't as satisfied by this one as The Roanoke Girls.

Goodreads rating: ★★★☆☆

*Thanks so much to Netgalley for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

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