Cristina Rodriguez desperately needs a new start. Having left an abusive relationship, she is living with her Grandmother and Uncle, sharing their sofa with her young daughter Anise. She thinks she has found her perfect place in a small house on the edge of the Californian town of Pleasure Point. With a secluded location and a beautiful ocean view, it is everything that she wants for her and her daughter.
But, much like Cristina, this house has a past, one which does not match the idyllic location. Four years earlier a young girl was taken from the home and murdered. This was just the start of the tragedy which claimed the lives of her whole family. And if you look beyond the beautiful ocean views and the constant redevelopment of the town by big Corporate developers, the town of Pleasure Point is not quite as peaceful and picturesque as it seems. For the town’s history is as dark and disturbing as the life Cristina is trying to escape.
Cristina bears not only the physical scars of her past, but emotional ones too. As she tries to settle into her new home with Anise, she is soon haunted by ghosts from the past, and her future suddenly does not appear to be quite as safe and sure as she had hoped.
‘Cristina’ by Jake Parent is a chilling and atmospheric story, one which I felt compelled to keep reading, no matter how hard the subject sometimes got. And it certainly did. This is possibly not a book for the faint hearted. There is a real tension throughout the book, despite the setting of Pleasure Point, which is seemingly beautiful and tranquil. At least on the surface, the parts that the tourists see. There is a darker side to the town, one of drug use, abandoned buildings and almost festering decay that Jake Parent describes so vividly you can almost feel your skin crawl as you picture it.
There are some very strong themes throughout the story. Cristina is a born survivor, a strong Latino woman who has suffered through self-abuse and an abusive relationship to become an independent mother who would do anything to protect her child. The themes of drug use, cults, physical and sexual abuse and also psychological abuse all feature, although I don’t feel any were overly gratuitous. You were never in any doubt of what was happening, and Parent did not shy away from talking about the subjects, but the way in which they were told, through recollection of memories or almost flashbacks driven by current events, gave them that slight detachment which made it easier to read. It may still be a trigger for some so caution is advised. This can be a dark book at times. That said there were also moments of beauty and levity which gave me, as a reader, a lift just as things were about to become too dark. Jordan and Danny are definitely two very uplifting characters who should bring a smile to your face, and the relationship and love between Cristina and Anise and also for her Grandmother and Uncle is very touching..
Cristina is a well developed character and her dedication to her daughter made her very easy to like. She is not a virtuous character by any means; she is obsessed with how she looks, thrives on how it affects those around her (this is a little much at times but perhaps understandable given that, despite everything she has been through, she is still relatively young) and you could easily condemn her for her selfish actions in her teens. But you cannot deny how the character has turned her life around and her determination, quick mouth and persistence were very endearing. The relationships she develops in the town are strong and show the easy-going side of her nature and yet when pressed to defend her daughter she will attack, and with some gusto. I really kind of liked her.
Beyond the story of Cristina and her battle to keep her daughter from her ex, you have the mystery of the child, Annie, who was abducted from the home Cristina purchased. There is some essence of her spirit remaining within the home and Cristina is haunted by dreams of the child which drive her to find out more about the house. Something is clearly amiss, and it is this mystery which weaves like a fine thread throughout the novel which adds an extra layer of suspense and intrigue. Are the dreams an omen or just a by-product of Cristina scaring herself thinking about the history of her new home? Are her nerves about trusting her new neighbours and friends driven by a real threat or trepidation after being so let down in her past? You’ll have to read to find out but I really did enjoy this extra element of the unknown, the drifting fog from the ocean and the dank decay of the rough end of town adding to the feeling of unease.
This is a great book; an edgy psychological suspense with a fierce heroine and a real element of the unknown which made me want to read onward.
A very creepy, be careful just who you trust 4 stars.
I was provided a copy of ‘Cristina’ by the author. My review is voluntary.
‘Cristina‘ is available to purchase here: