For this Twisted Book Club, I’m reviewing Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Haeberlin. Last time, I reviewed Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven. Black-Eyed Susans was described as a suspenseful book. That is the reason why I really wanted to read the book. Honestly, beginning it was quite boring, however, suspense is built up. The book follows a woman, Tessa, who was kidnapped at the age of 16. There is someone in jail for her kidnapping, however Tessa is now doubting if the person in jail is the one who took her. We follow her as she is being confronted by her past. She has to access the part of her past in order to make sure that the right person is punished. Does this excite you? Let’s get into Tessa’s story!
Black-Eyed Susans follows Tessa who was kidnapped as a 16 year-old girl (Tessie). Tessie was held captive on a farm somewhere outside the city. While Tessie was on a pile of garbage and apparently also the dead bodies of other girls, she guides us through what went on inside her mind. Of course, she has to make sure that she will not end up dead like the other girls in the pile, and eventually she is found. The girls are called Black-Eyed Susans, named after the flower that is an important element in the story.
Also, throughout the story, we are taken back and forth between 16 year-old Tessie and the grown up Tessa who lives with her daughter Charlie. We read about how Tessie had to go to a psychiatrist and how her experiences still affect her now. We read about how Tessie tried to resume her normal life with her best friend Lydia and her family after her kidnapping. Not to forget, all of a sudden Tessa finds black-eyed susans, almost everywhere… does this mean her monster is still out there?! Tessa has to dig deep to uncover the parts she hid away.
Black-Eyed Susans is written from different perspectives, and in three parts. The first part shifts from Tessa and Tessie’s perspective. Whereas Tessie symbolizes the 16-year old, thus the younger version while Tessa is the current, grown-up version of Tessie. The second part of the book is written from the same perspective, however here the emphasis in Tessa’s current life is the execution of Terrell. Therefore, in Tessa’s perspective, she is still rethinking everything that has happened and wanting to be sure that Terrell is guilty. That is why we still get to read from young Tessie’s perspective. The last part of the book is told by Tessa’s perspective, from three days until Terrell’s execution and her best friend Lydia when she was 16 and 17. Those are all the parts and perspectives. When talking about it it may seem complicated, but when you are reading it, it makes perfect sense.
If you are interested in human psychology and how people deal with grief or depression this is a good book. Mostly, because we get access to an elaborate experience of both Tessie and Tessa pertaining to what happened. Also on how she processed it and how it affected her. I think that Julia Heaberlin did an amazing job at describing how Tessie or Tessa felt, an example:
The studio is crowded. My ghosts moved in right away, when I did, after the last stroke of linen white on the walls. The Susans feel free to talk as loudly as they want, sometimes arguing like silly girls at a sleepover. I should climb the steps. Greet them with civility. Draw the curtain. Find out whether it swings from a window in the mansion in my head where the Susans sleep. Let them help. But I can’t. Not yet. I have to dig.
That excerpt is beautiful. You can interpret it any way you want, you can see the studio as a metaphor for her mind. How she describes the ghosts in her head that reside there and how she should go about them, confront them. Either way, it is well-written and powerful.
Tessa was very much in denial throughout the whole book, and that was very real. A lot of people have denial as a defense mechanism. Also those of us who are in the middle of a situation, abuse or toxic relationships. Even though we are in the middle of it, we still tend to deny it. We also tend to self-internalize our experiences. We unconsciously blame ourselves first, and a lot of times we are not completely honest with ourselves.
I think the book was very interesting to read. At first I thought the book was too descriptive for me. Mostly, due to the fact that almost every place Tessie or Tessa came into, she analyzed it and at times I thought it was too much. I think the way Tessie/Tessa processed her awful experience was beautiful. I don’t think the book had that much suspense, the suspense kicked in for me at the second part of the book. However, your curiosity and will to finish, will catch up with you. I was just too curious about what the hell happened to Tessie at 16 and curious about who the perpetrator was and mostly: I wanted to know why?! Thankfully, everything will fall at its place at the end of the book. It was a big plot twist, but very creative. By the way, if you’re interested in therapists and psychologists, read this.
Thank you for reading this review! Don’t hesitate to share your questions and opninions about Holding Up the Universe in the comments, or send me an email at email@example.com. If you know a good book for me, I am always eager to add books on my to-read list :). Don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel and follow me on IG: @senegalesetwisted and @sntwistedphoto for photography and video’s and check out my Facebook page @SenegaleseTwisted. See you in my next post :).