Audiobook Review: Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (July 19, 2022)
Length: 10 hrs and 2 mins
Narrator: Xe Sands
Sarah Gailey is one of the most versatile authors in SFF today, and when I saw that she was writing a horror novel, my first reaction was “Hell yes!” You never know what you’ll get with her books, so I was filled with curiosity and no small amount of excitement when I picked up Just Like Home.
The story follows protagonist Vera who is returning to her childhood home after getting news that her mother is dying. Twelve years since her return to Crowder House, being back is just as unsettling as she remembered, but her mother Daphne is practically unrecognizable, the illness eating at her from the inside out. While Vera prepares to get Daphne’s affairs settled, she is also distracted by her mother’s houseguest, an artist named James Duvall living in the backyard shed. His presence is not only uncomfortable but also disturbing, as he is paying Vera’s mother to live off the essence of the house, slowly feeding on the psychic dark energies and bad memories like some nasty parasite.
And indeed there is darkness and bad memories aplenty at Crowder House. As the story progresses, it is eventually revealed that Vera’s beloved father had actually led a terrible double life, and that this house he had built with his own two hands was in fact a place he kept all his secrets. There was a reason why Vera was never allowed in the basement, and years after her father was arrested, she still struggles to come to terms with everything that happened.
Just Like Home was as unsettling as I expected and wanted, but the story was also oddly twisted—quite literally at times. By that, I mean for the most part the plot was easy enough to follow, and yet the addition of flashbacks and the use of unconventional tense made for some confusing moments. Still, the revelations involving Vera’s father were teased rather effectively, and it was quite a shocker when all the details eventually came out. For one, the alternating timelines were a good format juxtaposing the carefree father-daughter moments with the horrors that we learned the man was capable of.
That said, pacing was a bit sluggish. The timeline switches along with Vera’s thought processes and the author’s own provocatively expressive prose made Just Like Home slow to take off and unravel. I also frequently became exasperated with the characters, especially Vera, and there seemed to be no end to threads of drama, whether they related to the main story or not. A prime example was James Duvall, who seemed solely there to be a distraction or a time filler. Even when all was said than done, I did not really care for his role in the book or the reasons why he was included.
If you love surprises and twists though, this might just be the kind of horror novel for you. Personally speaking, it also helped going in with the expectation of a supernatural element. By design, the structure of the story was disjointed and uneven anyway, thus the ending’s repercussions did not come across as jarring as they could have. I also love a nice touch of the speculative and I have to say being familiar with Gailey’s style and her penchant for “anything goes” definitely helped a lot.
Ultimately, Just Like Home ended up being a weirder and much more cerebral novel that I thought, but sometimes the best horror stories are those that don’t follow conventional rules or require a roadmap. If you’re feeling brave and adventurous, I would go ahead and give it a look. Kudos to also one of my favorite narrators, the very talented Xe Sands and the excellent job she did bringing the audiobook to life.