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Thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

April 20th, 2021

352 Pages

Synopsis: Once a social worker, specializing in kids who were the victims of violent crime, Elle Castillo is now the host of a popular true crime podcast that tackles cold cases of missing children in her hometown of the Twin Cities. After two seasons of successfully solving cases, Elle decides to tackle her white whale—The Countdown Killer. Twenty years ago TCK abruptly stopped after establishing a pattern of taking and ritualistically murdering three girls over seven days, each a year younger than the last. No one’s ever known why, why he stopped with his eleventh victim, a girl of eleven years old, or why he followed the ritual at all.

When a listener phones in with a tip, Elle sets out to interview him, only to discover his dead boy. And within days, a child is abducted following the original TCK MO. Unlike the experts in the media and law enforcement who have always spun theories of a guilty suicide,  Elle never believed TCK had died, and her investigation was meant to lay that suspicion to rest. But instead, her podcast seems to be kicking up new victims. (Goodreads)

I need to begin by saying if you choose to pick up Girl, 11, be prepared to leave some expectations of rationality at the door. I also need to tell you that there are some scenes of child abuse which could be difficult for some readers. With those warnings out of the way, you guys—THIS. WAS. PHENOMENONAL! You know, in the way that you’re supposed to be doing laundry, and other real life stuff, but nothing gets done because you can’t put down the book you’re reading! Well, in my defense I did finally get the laundry done albeit much later than I had planned on. Seriously though, Girl, 11 had me from the very first page and it dug its hooks into me even more as I got deeper into the story.

Elle is a flawed and emotionally complicated character who never makes you question her motives, but does make you doubt her methods. She’s stubborn, obsessive and impulsive, which starts out as annoying, but as Amy Suiter Clarke drops little hints to an unknown childhood trauma, it’s obvious why Elle is so determined to do what she thinks is right, even when those around her have doubts. Unfortunately, in her quest for the truth she puts not only herself, but others in danger. But then, in the final chapters, comes the bombshell to end all bombshells regarding Elle’s past, and everything she’s done up until this point makes much more sense.The secondary characters are equally well written, but the standout for me is Martin, Elle’s dishy Mexican husband, whose skills as an ME are quite useful. Their relationship is really sweet, and I loved the dialogue between them.

The story is told mainly from Elle’s perspective and alternate with her podcast transcripts, but there are a few chapters scattered throughout where you hear from someone else which add some interesting layers to the story. The ones from the killer are chilling and made my flesh crawl. Another compelling aspect of this ripped-from-the-headlines plot is the question that’s raised about the positive vs the negative of focusing so much attention on the monsters who commit such evil atrocities. I can honestly say I was kept guessing right up until the end, and I’m glad I finished in the afternoon, because if I had done so right before bed, I never would have gone to sleep.

To sum things up, Girl, 11, is one of the most impressive debuts I’ve had the pleasure of coming across in recent memory. If you’re a fan of true crime podcasts, complex characters, twisty mysteries, and heart-pounding suspense, I highly recommend this. Without being a psychic I can almost guarantee that this will become a series, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be extremely disappointed.