I feel like books are becoming more diversified. They’re not just one or two things anymore. Where the Shadow Lies was a mysterious thriller with a side of romance. Folsom was a political romance with a side of dystopia. And this book—Providence—is a romantic mystery with a side of science fiction. It’s impressive really. People are so complicated; we’re never just one or two things. We’re many things, and we have many sides. So it makes sense that what we like to read is just as complex.
I must admit, I was a little reluctant to read this book. I’m not a sci-fi fan. I like books I can relate to, and supernatural qualities are often unrelatable. Unless I’m smack dab in the middle of watching a Marvel movie, I shrug off the idea of super powers. A web can’t stop a train from crashing, a root can’t defuse a bomb, and a hammer can’t crush a building with one swing. It’s unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous. (Sorry, Marvel fans! I know, I know…you’re booing me right about now.)
But that’s what’s so great about this book. Caroline creates an environment that is unlikely and makes it completely believable. Once you’re immersed in the story, you find that you’re less focused on the supernatural element and more focused on the brokenness of the characters and their unjust circumstances. It becomes a matter of who instead of a matter of how.
Let’s talk about the main character, Jon Bronson. On the surface, he is a villain or—as he refers to himself many times—a “monster.” He harms people and, at times, he feels no regret. You should dislike him because of what he does, but you find yourself sympathizing with him because of who he is. Sound familiar?
If you’ve read Caroline’s first book, You, then you’re very familiar with its main character, Joe Goldberg. Like Jon, Joe is also a villain. He harms people too, and he seldom regrets his actions. And yet, villain or not, you find the guy endearing. Some would even say they’d want to be BFFs with him (ahem, ME).
Reading about Jon made me think about Joe. But aside from their three-letter, three-syllable names and “monsterlike” qualities, the comparison pretty much stops there. While there is a similar cadence in the books—story-wise, Providence is a very different book.
One of the ways Providence is different is its manipulation of time. The novel spans many years. In that time, settings change and most characters evolve. There’s a real sense of “growing up”…or not. You see that some people mature while others remain stagnant. Some people deteriorate while others flourish.
Now, I know you’re all wondering about the ending, and without giving much away, I will say, I had some questions at the end of this book. My thoughts went like this: “Wouldn’t they have [something spoilerish]?” “Why didn’t they [something equally spoilerish]?” “Do they end up [MAJORLY SPOILERISH]?” Some readers have docked the book a star or two because of these questions, but I honestly love novels that leave you guessing. I don’t want everything tied up in a perfect little bow. The fact that Caroline left a few things up to interpretation says (to me) that she trusts her readers. She thinks we’re intelligent, that we can handle the mystery. This just makes me respect her more.
My advice to you, should you decide to read this book (and you really, really should) is to go into it with an open mind. Don’t think, “This won’t be my cup of tea.” Don’t think, “I loved You, so I know I’ll love this book.” Don’t think, “All villains deserve to die” (okay, maybe that one’s a bit harsh). DO think, “I want to escape,” “I want to be entertained,” “I want to read something different,” “I want to use my imagination.” If you can do these things, then you’ll love this book as much as I do.
I love the feeling of finishing a really good book. Closing the book (or turning off my Kindle), laying it on my chest, and staring off into space, feeling satisfied with making it through to the end, but at the same time, feeling a sense of loss that it’s over—almost mourning having to say goodbye to the characters. Only a handful of books have left me feeling that way. Providence is the newest addition to that list.
I am not a big fan of scary books, nor am I a fan of being scared in real life. Not like “I am afraid” but more the feeling of being scared/shocked/surprised. When Erica and I started dating and moved in together, she would come home before me and hide somewhere in the house and not in a “Hey, Matty-bae, come find me and have your way with me” way (although that would be fun). Instead, she would hide and wait to scare the crap out of me. I would walk into a dark room and she would pounce, giggling ruthlessly while I tried to pretend the high-pitched girl scream didn’t just come out of my mouth. She used to drive me crazy with that stuff, but her giggling just made me love her more.
I mention that because, like Erica, I was a bit reluctant to read Providence. I was hesitant once I found out it was a supernatural thriller. I thought it might not be my style. But, having read and loved the author’s previous books, You and its sequel Hidden Bodies, I went for it and am so happy I did. In my opinion, Providence is not scary in any way, nor is it a supernatural fantasy. It feels like part mystery/thriller, part character study, with a layer of romance and just a touch of something supernatural. Honestly, if you were to pair up my favorite genres with Erica’s, you would have this book.
I didn’t realize how much I was loving the book until I was almost finished and felt the pang of sadness that the story was coming to an end. Who else but Caroline-freaking-Kepnes could take such a ragtag group of characters and make them flow together so seamlessly?! Jon, who disappears and then reappears “different.” Chloe, the artist who finds her muse in the loss of her friend. Carrig, the stereotypical jock. Eggs, the detective who stumbles upon some crazy ish. And then there’s the lunatic who started it all.
Of all the characters, Jon is my favorite. Having been “gone” for some time, he didn’t have the same life experiences and opportunities to grow up. When he returns, he has to struggle with not only being back, but also having to learn all those social skills his peers have already made mistakes with and learned from. It was interesting to watch him navigate this new world, and the author’s approach was surprisingly realistic.
One final part of the book that I loved was that while the story felt complete and finished, there were parts left for the reader to imagine their own conclusions. As Erica said, you may finish this book and still have some questions. My advice is to buddy-read this book, like we did. Grab your favorite drink and your favorite friend, then work your way through this adventure together!
Let me wrap up my review by responding to my wife’s comments about superheroes: “I am Groot. I am Groot. I. am. Groot.”
Okay, Groot. Let’s be honest with our readers. We really struggled with this review. There was a pressure to do this book justice because (a) we really like Caroline as a person (and as an author, duh), (b) we really like this book, and (c) we couldn’t wrap our heads around why this book was so great.
Matt was right. There was a sense of loss upon finishing this book. I cried. I was touched in a way that doesn’t often happen when I read books. And it was so unexpected because it was a thriller and it did have supernatural elements and there was a literary component, which I didn’t always “get.” But the story was so much more than these things, too. It’s about relationships—suffering friendships, a complicated marriage. There was a real sense of trust versus truthfulness, which is something that I can relate to, that we all can relate to, I think.
Try not to let the genre or those awful Amazon reviews scare you off. This book is bigger than all of that. It will leave a mark on you. A mark you really shouldn’t pass up the chance to get. Buddy-read this bad boy and get ready to have some great “this is my theory and I’m right!” discussions. Any book that makes you think, feel, and talk about is meant to be read…and soon (June 19th, to be exact).
To pre-order a copy of or read a synopsis for Caroline Kepnes’s Providence, click here.