Just Like Mother is a debut horror novel by Anne Heltzel that I received freely in exchange for an honest review.
Cults aren't something you hear to much of anymore. Everyone is enlightened now, right? Well, what about cults all about glorifying motherhood and using men as a means to that very end. Well, this palpable and horrifying novel shows us what happens to a woman who has escaped such a thing. At least, that is what she believes.
We follow Maeve, a woman in her thirties, who is closed off to the world as she tries to be a productive editor in New York. But dreams of her childhood still haunt her, of the cult she was born into and the things she saw in the locked room, the reason she ran away. Since that day, since she was eight years old, Maeve has never really trusted anyone, so when the one kind face from that time, her cousin Andrea, comes into her life once more, she is thrilled. Andrea was just a kid like her. She knows what it was like. Maybe they can be a family again.
Plus, Andrea is rich. Like, really rich. It doesn't seem to be much of a problem until Andrea starts trying to take over her life. But Maeve owes her that much. At least that is what she keeps telling herself. After the cult bust, Maeve was placed with a nice home. According to Andrea, she went from foster parent to foster parent until she aged out of the system and it was dreadful. We watch as Maeve tries to make up for things she feels are her fault, as she tries to build something from the ashes of her life even as more and more of it seems to be burning down. And while her dear cousin is at the center of it, to Maeve, she is a beacon of light. This was a psychological thriller through and through and it really stunned me.
Heltzel definitely has a way of making you feel the eery dread that lurks within the pages, that is for sure. From the creepy lifelike dolls to the fact that Maeve's cousin Andrea is so adamant about getting her way. The author's use of something deemed sacred as a crutch and almost as a source of fear throughout the piece was masterful. While I could have personally preferred the sexual scenes off the page, Heltzel uses them to drive home something sinister as well. When an author can use every word as a clue, that takes skill. And that skill was evoked here.
Would I recommend this book? Honestly, it depends. Fans of suspense and that creepy "am I being watched" feeling would no doubt love Heltzel's work but there aren't many others who would. The book has some pretty serious content warnings and for those who have experienced trauma such as rape, psychological abuse and more, this would be more damaging than a fun read.