A backpacking trip has deadly consequences in this eerie psychological thriller.
Emily is having the time of her life—she’s in the mountains of Chile with her best friend, Kristen, on their annual reunion trip, and the women are feeling closer than ever. But on the last night of the trip, Emily enters their hotel suite to find blood and broken glass on the floor. Kristen says the cute backpacker she brought back to their room attacked her, and she had no choice but to kill him in self-defense. Even more shocking: The scene is horrifyingly similar to last year’s trip, when another backpacker wound up dead. Emily can’t believe it’s happened again—can lightning really strike twice?
Back home in Wisconsin, Emily struggles to bury her trauma, diving headfirst into a new relationship and throwing herself into work. But when Kristen shows up for a surprise visit, Emily is forced to confront their violent past. The more Kristen tries to keep Emily close, the more Emily questions her motives. As Emily feels the walls closing in on their cover-ups, she must reckon with the truth about her closest friend. Can Emily outrun the secrets she shares with Kristen, or will they destroy her relationship, her freedom—even her life?
Quoted as a slow burn thriller, I knew this would be the type of thriller I would like and I wasn’t disappointed. Bartz’s two main characters Emily and Kristen were wonderfully complex, Emily the less confident, perhaps more naive of the two, Kristen the dominant one.
Their trip to Chile seemed perfect until it wasn’t, until one dead backpacker hurriedly buried in a rocky outcrop and a lifetime of worry seemingly followed them back home. For Emily is appeared to be deja vu, so similar to her own trauma in Cambodia that it only seemed to increase her anxiety and worry. And this was where the novel really took off, as Bartz brilliantly used Emily’s voice to show a woman tied up in knots, who continually looked behind her shoulder waiting for the axe to fall.
You could feel her mind constantly whirling as Bartz made her question her friendship with Kristen. Was Kristen really who she appeared to be, why had so many people around her died? Bartz dug extraordinarily deep not only into Emily’s psyche but also Kristen’s as she revealed a woman hell bent on control, on manipulation, intent of having everything and everyone at her beck and call, on her own terms.
It was utterly fascinating to read and it created a brilliant intensity that pulled you in to the narrative, into the minds of Emily and Kristen. As Emily found more answers so the stakes appeared to rise, and in some respects the danger and the ensuing drama were superbly compelling.
The conclusion was perhaps the most intriguing part and left me with more answers than when I began. I was left with lingering questions that I mulled over but couldn’t quite decide what the answers were. I am almost certain this was Bartz’s intention and I admired her writing skills even more for it.
We Were Never Here definitely deserved it’s selection in Reese Witherspoon Book Club. An utterly fascinating look into the minds and relationship between two women, that created one fantastic thrilling story.
I would like to thank Micheal Joseph for a copy of We Were Never Here to read and review.
About the author
ANDREA BARTZ is a Brooklyn-based journalist and author of The Lost Night and The Herd. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Martha Stewart Living, Redbook, Elle, and many other outlets, and she’s held editorial positions at Glamour, Psychology Today, and Self, among other publications.