On the one hand, I don’t write scary books. Not scary the way Stephen King scares us. When they put my books on the shelves in the bookstores, they place them in the general fiction section. They get labeled as suspense novels or thrillers. No one calls them horror. There aren’t vampires or zombies or really even any blood at all. No one runs around with a chainsaw, hacking teenagers to pieces.
But a lot of people tell me my books scare them, and that response makes perfect sense to me. After all, I write about families in peril. And what could be scarier than thinking your family, your loved ones, the people you care most about in the world, might be in some kind of danger? Nothing, right?
THE HIDING PLACE hinges on a mother-daughter relationship. The daughter, Ashleigh, is fifteen. Like a lot of teenagers, she likes to keep to herself. She spends time alone, reading or at the library. She loves her mother, but she really doesn’t share much with her. In some ways, she sees her mother as lacking in something. Ashleigh dreams of getting out of the town she grew up in—unlike her mother. Ashleigh can’t wait to get away and go to college.
But there is one thing Ashleigh places above all else—her mother’s happiness and safety. In the book, a strange man visits the house Ashleigh and her mother, Janet, share in the middle of the night. The man claims to know the real details concerning the death of Janet’s brother, who was murdered twenty-five years before the book opens. Initially, Ashleigh sets out to find this man, to discover what he really knows. She hopes she can find out the truth about her uncle’s death and in the process bring closure to her mother.
But in the process of looking for the man, Ashleigh realizes something. What if this man is dangerous? What if he intends to harm her mother? I’ve been reading this section of the book for audiences in bookstores and libraries, and lately when I get to that line—Could this weird guy from the porch really be dangerous? Could he hurt someone—even Mom?—I’ve been having a personal reaction. I’ve been thinking of my own mom. What would I do if someone ever hurt her? She’s eighty years old and tough, but as people age they seem…so vulnerable. I grew up knowing that both of my parents would lay down their lives for me or my brother or sister. No doubt about it. But as we age, we start to trade roles with our parents just a little bit. We become the caretakers. The protectors. And make no mistake about it, my siblings and I would do anything to protect our mom if we had to.
And that’s what THE HIDING PLACE is about. It’s about a family that is forced to confront things they don’t really want to confront, but when placed in that situation, they come together like nobody’s business. They stand by each other. They fight for each other. Sure, one of the scariest things in life is thinking of our loved ones coming to harm. The only thing scarier is thinking about not having those we love the most around at all.
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About Marybeth Whalen
Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.