Review: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Author: Paula McLain
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Released: April 13th, 2021
Received: Own (BOTM)
Warnings: Child death, kidnapping, rape, assault, child abuse

4 kitties

Paula McLain’s latest novel, When the Stars Go Dark, is a brilliant new thriller, one that forces characters and readers alike to confront the different ways a person can process their grief.

Anna Hart is great at her job. She’s also obsessed with it. Then again, if you were working to find missing people – children – you’d have trouble leaving the job behind when your shift ends. That’s the way it is for Anna.

When tragedy strikes, Anna is forced to take some time away. Try to get her mind and her life back in order. However, even on vacation, she feels the tug of the missing children who need her. Now, a local teenage girl has gone missing, and it’s starting to feel like Anna is the only one with the expertise or drive to bring this girl home.

“Not every kid lands on the milk carton. Some just vanish.”

Wow. When you sit down to read When the Stars Go Dark, be prepared to be blown away. Prepare to get hit in the feels while you’re at it. Anna’s story is so powerful and emotional, and it doubles in scale as she hunts to get to the heart of this case.

Before I fully dive into this review, I should probably mention that there are some serious warnings that go along with this book. There’s child death, kidnapping, rape, assault, stalking, animal injury, and child abuse. Not to mention grief and many other harder to quickly describe themes that come up over the course of When the Stars Go Dark.

“I’ve always felt a need to help people. It gets to be too much, though, particularly when they’re in real trouble and you don’t know if you can make a difference no matter how hard you try.”

When the Stars Go Dark is a book that I was instantly captivated by. I first spotted the cover when browsing add-ons for BOTM, and I just knew that I had to read it. Upon actually picking it up to read, I found that it was not a book that I could put down. Nope, this is one of those beauties that insists on being read in one sitting.

This is a powerful story, both internally and externally. On the outside, Anna is putting everything she has into helping solve this case (which isn’t her case to solve, mind you). Internally, she’s struggling to find a way to process a very personal tragedy in her life. There are times when it feels like she’s shunting all of that pain to the side. But in a way, that is part of the grieving process.

What I’m trying to say is that Anna’s pain felt so sharp and so real. It brought the whole story home, while also addressing several vital subjects. The number of missing children in real life is concerning and noteworthy. It’s a conversation that should be had, along with many other facets that come up over the course of this book (I don’t want to spoil all of those, so forgive my vague comment here).

Long story short: When the Stars Go Dark is a captivating and heartbreaking novel. It forces readers to view all of the characters as human beings, and then it takes us through the grieving process alongside them.

About Liz (AKA Cat)

I am an avid animal lover, photographer, reader, and much more. While my photography blog is feeling a bit neglected at the moment, the other sites I'm involved in are going strong. ✧I review books, comics, and basically anything else in the literary world over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks (of Books). ✧I review comics and books, as well as write content for Word of the Nerd. ✧I review comics for Monkeys Fighting Robots. ✧I write content for Screen Rant and CBR. ✧I write book reviews for The Review Crew.
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