Hope You Guess My Name
by Heather Harlen

Northhampton House Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-937-99753-3.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 08/25/2016

Fiction: Thriller

Heather Harlan's debut novel, Hope You Guess My Name is a thriller that will make readers wonder what's behind the veneers of their own communities. Marina Konyeshna's life is threatened after she discovers a human trafficking ring in her home town. She's lived her whole life in eastern Pennsylvania. She works as an event planner, lives in her mother's basement, has a weakness for expensive shoes and purses, has taken a break from her long time steady boyfriend, and has a sinking credit score. She thinks life can't get much worse than it is. And then it does. With her plucky personality and fallible spirit Marina could be best friends with fiction characters Bridget Jones and Stephanie Plum; they'd be one terrific trio.

The following is an example from page one of Harlan's exhilarating, fast-paced novel:

The kayak was out of control, like someone drunk texting an ex at 3 a.m. The whirling water spun me sideways again. My shoulder slammed against a boulder... I'd had enough of stupid Mother Nature, so I dug my paddle into the foam and steadied my breath. I heaved myself into the torrent and yanked up on my paddle.

Crack. Freakin' A. I was officially the proud owner of half a paddle. Holy Hell. Mother Nature three, Marina Konyeshna zilch.

Harlan's strength is her in-depth knowledge of the lay of the land as she brings to life the backwoods, abandoned coal mines, and the heart of rural eastern Pennsylvania. Her comprehensive character development is mesmerizing. Marina's lack of focus and tendency to daydream accurately portrayed her mostly un-medicated Attention Deficit Disorder. She is full of contradictions but believable; probably we all have a friend, sibling or cousin who exhibits some of her personality quirks.

A tall, handsome, wealthy Turk arrives in town and wants Marina to show him the real side of Pennsylvania life. She takes him to the bazaar and bingo night at her local parish. Her colloquial pattern of speech fascinates him. He fascinates Marina, at least for a while.

Marina's relationship with her mother is thought-provoking, though not atypical. Her sister, Janna, barely conceals her animosity toward Marina. She resents always having to be the responsible one while Marina continues to mooch off their mother. Janna's five year old daughter, Piper, is the apple of the entire family's eyes. Then there is dear Aunt Yelina.

Marina's best friends are Gilly, a lawyer, and Kendra, a teacher; and have been since junior high. Too often Marina acts before thinking. She forges her friend's names to enter a big-money-high-stakes geocaching competition and soon Marina has gotten them into yet another mess. At the height of their anger, it seems there is no way out. Though her friends are disgusted and angry with her, they remain loyal.

The death-defying challenges of the competition are weird and frightening. Each one seems to be worse than the one before. The plot is cleverly layered and threads dead bodies and minds together in a totally unsuspected connection.

I read this novel in one evening, because I could not stop. It is a page turning thriller. Sometimes I wanted to shout at Marina, NO! Don't be stupid, don't do this or that. But, of course, Harlan knew exactly how to put the story together to keep it moving at just the right pace, scattering a dash of wit when needed to prevent readers form hyperventilating. The good news is this is first in a series of Marina's adventures; the next one will be released in January 2017. I can't wait!

Heather Harlan is a an English teacher. She is married and is close with her extended family, as well as her husband's family. She is a graduate of Wilkes University Creating Writing Program.

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