book review: Penance by Kanae Minato

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PENANCE by Kanae Minato
★★★★
US pub date: April 17, 2017
Publisher: Mulholland Books
My review on Goodreads

Five girls go out to play and only four come home. Sae, Maki, Akiko, and Yuko were a close group of friends, joined by Emily in the summer of fourth grade, whose family just moved to their rural town. One day a man approaches them while they’re playing, asks if one of them could help him for a moment, and walks off with Emily. A few hours later, she’s found dead. The problem is, the four remaining girls can’t remember what the man looked like.

Penance takes place over a decade after these events, in five chapters told from the point of view of each of the girls and Emily’s mother, and focuses on the aftermath of the murder, and the effect it had on each of them.

I could not put this book down. It’s not really a gripping page-turner in the sense that there’s an urgent mystery to solve or anything like that. It’s more of a psychological thriller, which thoroughly examines the role that guilt plays in the lives of each of the girls, and how a promise they made to Emily’s mother prevents each of them from living a normal life. Each of the characters is compelling – Emily’s mother perhaps most of all – and the numerous layers to this story makes it an engaging read. Penance explores themes of guilt, rage, retribution, and revenge, centering entirely on a host of female characters, each with a distinct voice and personality.

Certain aspects of this story are unrealistic – something happens to each of the girls that’s like, ‘what are the odds?’ – but it honestly lends this story the air of a parable, something that feels more like a story than something that could happen in real life. But that’s okay. It’s a damn good story.

Fair warning: this is a dark book. Trigger warnings for rape, suicide, child abuse, and violence. Proceed with caution.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Mulholland Books, and Kanae Minato.

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5 thoughts on “book review: Penance by Kanae Minato

  1. Gald to hear you enjoyed this one! I loved it – I know what you mean about the coincidence of something happening to each of them, but it seemed to work in the context of the book, and I loved that each character was so different from the others. Have you read her earlier book, Confessions? If not, I do recommend it too…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree! It lent the story a vaguely supernatural quality, like it all happened to them because it was predestined or set into motion by what Emily’s mother did, which usually isn’t the sort of thing I like in fiction, but Kanae Minato didn’t bash us over the head with this element, like ‘it’s happening to them because FATE!!!!!’ – the tragic coincidences just lent the whole thing a sort of eerie vibe that I was really into.

      I have not read Confessions but it is on my TBR now! I can’t wait to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

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