“The Girl Upstairs” unfolds in the first-person present-tense narrative of Suzie Arlington. The title implies that the book is about “the girl upstairs,” but it is really about Susie. Her conversations have a causal and friendly tone; she poses questions with no answers, and she makes little comments without context. She admits that “you were right,” and that she is “thinking about you.” However, just who is this mysterious person with whom she carries on one-sided conversations? The reader or someone else?
Suzie heard Emily Williams, the girl who lives upstairs, before she even met her. They are two people whose lives are connected by circumstances. Theirs is not a happy relationship, what with Suzie hearing everything, smelling everything, and complaining about everything Emily does. Emily has a one-year lease, but Suzie wants her gone. That is, until Emily is actually gone, disappeared, vanished without a trace. Now, Suzie is obsessed with finding Emily and with uncovering her secrets; the one once despised now becomes the one urgently hunted.
Suzie controls the story even though she does not have the title. She is a complex character with problems of her own that she must resolve even as she methodically searches for Emily. She asks the questions that no one answers; she searches when no one else will; she makes sense of puzzle pieces that do not seem to fit, and she recognizes the lies that people tell her. In the midst of this trauma, she also finds her new self.
I received a review copy of “The Girl Upstairs” from Georgina Lees, HarperCollins, and One More Chapter. The plot is multifaceted with layer upon layer of complications, secrecy, and surprises. Suzie is frozen in time, but the darkness that she shares with Emily gives her the strength to find answers and to move on herself.