Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan


TheNeverListThe Never List by Koethi Zan (Pamela Dorman Books, 2013)

Sarah and Jennifer, having survived an accident that claimed the life of Jennifer’s mother, analyze every statistic they can find about danger—what can happen and the odds of those things happening—and assemble what they call “the Never List”: a list of things they must never do if they are to stay safe. They faithfully follow the list, until the night they get into a cab that isn’t a cab, and they wake up in chains in a madman’s cellar. After three years of unspeakable horror, Sarah manages to escape, and she and two other women are finally free—but Jennifer has vanished.

Ten years pass, and Caroline (as Sarah now prefers to be called) has moved to New York City, where she can live and work without ever setting foot outside her apartment. But that madman is up for parole, and without her testimony, he might well be set free. Not only that, but the letters he sends her are more and more intriguing, hinting at a past that isn’t hers but might refer to the two other survivors, neither of whom wants anything to do with her. She finally convinces them that they must follow the clues in those letters, and together the three women—Sarah, Tracy, and Christine—confront what was done to them, and what they did to each other.

Caroline/Sarah is a compelling and sympathetic character; she’s aware of the devastating emotional impact of her imprisonment but seems content to stop at awareness and not delve into the reasons behind it or find ways to move forward. It’s only when she leaves her isolation and discovers that the madman might not have been acting alone that she is able to look beyond her own experience and think about other people. In fact, all of the characters are compelling, if not always sympathetic. There are two interwoven plots in the book—what is going on in the present, and what went on in the past—and it’s through the current shared experience that Sarah, Tracy, and Christine are finally able to discover the truth about what really happened in the cellar ten years ago.

This was a difficult book to read, and it was an even more difficult book to stop reading. Although she’s writing about the (all-too-real) underground subculture that exists solely to exploit and debase women, the author avoids vivid descriptions, choosing instead to rely on emotional and psychological imagery that arguably have more impact on the reader. The pacing is top-notch; the author found the perfect balance between plot development and character development to make this story work.

This is an excellent debut, and I would like to see more from this author.


This book was furnished by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


My rating: 5 stars


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