The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon
April 26, 2022, by Gallery/Scout Press
Review by Angela
I’ve kind of been on a gothic suspense/horror kick for the last couple of years. In between my romance and mysteries, I find myself reaching for something with that creepy, dark, scare factor. I discovered this author last year when she released The Drowning Kind and immediately added her to my auto-buy shelf.
The Children on the Hill is told in alternating timelines and POVs, interspersed with excerpts from a book written about the events unfolding, and the character’s own childhood monster guide. While this may seem at first confusing, I promise that it’s really not. Everything is laid out perfectly and maintains a steady pace while keeping readers engaged.
The timeline revolves around two POVs. Lizzy is a monster hunter in 2019. She maintains a blog and podcast, while also appearing on a popular tv show. When a teenage girl goes missing in Vermont and the rumor is that she had made contact with the local monster, Lizzy knows she has to check it out. After keeping track of similar cases over the years she’s convinced this is the person she’s been tracking. Her sister.
In 1978 a young Violet Hildreth and her brother Eric, live with their grandmother, the esteemed Dr. Helen Hildreth, in the shadow of the Hillside Inn, a historical building currently being used as a psychiatric hospital. Dr. Hildreth, or Gran, is famous for finding unusual and unconventional methods to treat her patients. Those methods have carried over on how she raises her grandchildren. Vi and Eric are homeschooled and spend all of their time on the inn grounds, surrounded by its inhabitants. They are very familiar with the nurses, orderlies, and even the patients. But they are just ordinary kids, who happen to believe in monsters. They even have their very own Monsters Club.
Then one day Gran brings a young girl home named Iris.
Iris doesn’t speak and has this haunted look about her. From the grungy orange hat she refuses to take off, to not putting her clothes on the right way, and then the discovery of her scars and amnesia about her past. Vi is tasked with acclimating her to the household and giving Gran reports on her progress. Which she does. But she also forms a kinship with Iris that leads her to promise that she will find out who Iris is and where she came from.
This is one of those books where you as a reader are entranced with the atmosphere and characters from the moment you read the first word. I had a sense of where this plot was headed and even while I couldn’t wait for Vi and Iris to discover what was going on behind the walls of the Hillside Inn, I also wanted them to slow down because I knew that bad things were coming. And oh, did they come.
I’ve mentioned before how this back and forth storytelling style works well for me, and that is especially so in these types of novels. There is a great satisfaction from seeing all these separative POVs and timelines come together for the big reveal. The tension and suspense are top-notch. Several times I could barely contain myself from flipping ahead to see what was going to happen and had to remember that there would be a huge payoff at the conclusion. I will say that I was both surprised and satisfied by the ending.
The Children on the Hill is an intense, dark read that will satisfy fans of this author and genre. Recommend.
Final grade- B+