Book Review: We Hear Voices by Evie Green
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Dystopian
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Berkley Books (December 1, 2020)
Length: 384 pages
A mysterious pandemic. Social unrest and widespread poverty. A new initiative to send gifted youth into space in the hopes of building a new world while the old one burns. All these are catastrophes and events unfolding in We Hear Voices. As the story begins, a woman named Rachel watches over her gravely ill son Billy in their tiny apartment in London, praying for him to survive the night. The boy had contracted the J5X virus, a strain of deadly flu which has already claimed the lives of many children. The family, which includes Rachel’s other two children, her mother, and her boyfriend Al have already gathered to say their last goodbyes.
But then miraculously, Billy recovers. Before long, he is back to being the average six-year-old boy he used to be—except for one major difference. Now he has an imaginary friend he calls Delfy, whom he claims to have pulled him back from the brink of death by encouraging him to get better. At first, Rachel is unconcerned, believing it to be a phase. She also feels blessed that her son was spared when so many others have succumbed to the virus. However, it isn’t long before Delfy starts becoming a problem, telling Billy inappropriate things and instructing him to act up and behave badly at school—or so the boy says. Rachel takes her son to see a professional, but the situation only gets worse. Soon, it’s clear that Delfy is more than a child’s coping mechanism; she has become Rachel and her family’s worst nightmare.
You’d think I should have known better, picking up a book about an outbreak of a mysterious deadly virus during a pandemic. Fortunately, J5X only plays a small part in this story, mostly just serving as its backdrop. Much of the plot is actually about…well, everything else. Lots of things are happening here, and while most of it’s good, some of it not so much.
First, what I liked: there’s a good mix of genres for everyone, and I especially enjoyed the strong horror vibes. There’s just something so creepy about unnatural children that make them the perfect staple for a scary story. The imaginary friend angle was also very clever, particularly in the way the author relates it back to the pandemic. I also loved how the author wrote Delfy, and that initial uncertainty over whether she is just a figment of a child’s imagination or something more sinister. The things she makes Billy do are pretty atrocious, and the wickedness of them only escalates as the story progresses.
I also liked the setting. It’s unmistakably dystopian, as even as the pandemic rages, it’s clear there are many other problems ravaging this world. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the government has actually started a space exploration initiative to develop a generation ship and recruit young people for a centuries-long journey to a new planet where humanity can start anew. Rachel’s oldest daughter, Nina, is a bright young teen who has been chosen to be a part of the ship’s crew along with her boyfriend, and through her eyes we get to see the unfolding of space program storyline.
Unfortunately, this was also where the book started to lose me. Here’s what I didn’t care for: there was so much going on, but not really enough time or attention to sufficiently explore all the different subplots. I was mostly interested in Rachel’s plight and her struggles with Billy, and I wanted to know what was going on with Delfy. Nina’s sections were distracting and became more and more an annoyance to the point I started to resent every moment the story took me away from what I really wanted to read. For this reason, I had a rough time of getting through the second half of the book which branched into even more subplots, following Dr. Graham who was the specialist in charge of Billy’s case. As you might have guessed, Rachel’s son is not the only patient of Dr. Graham, whose research has led him to track down many other children with imaginary friends that only manifested after recovery from the virus. It’s a mystery that eventually comes together at the end, but I can’t say I was a fan of the way the resolution was handled. The answers came too quickly and too tidily for my tastes, not to mention the ending felt more gimmicky than satisfying.
At the end of the day, I had a good time with the horror elements of We Hear Voices, but there was also a lot of “noise” in the book that unfortunately took away from the enjoyment. Things started out strong, but the story lost some of its focus towards the end and probably would have worked better if it had been more fleshed out or streamlined.