Review: The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

cover of The Children on the HillThe Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon
Scout Press (April 26, 2022)
352 pages; $25.19 hardcover; $13.39 paperback;  $14.99 Kindle
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

I’ve been reading Jennifer McMahon’s books forever. I remember running across a few titles in my local, small-town library and binge-reading them both fairly quickly. Her storytelling voice effortlessly draws readers into the lives of her characters who are almost always involved in a dark mystery. 

My favorite McMahon book is The Winter People. She’s had several releases since that book, but none of them gave me that same kind of experience.

I’m excited to report that The Children on the Hill is that book. 

This book features two compelling timelines forty or fifty years apart. In the late seventies, Vi and her brother Eric live with their grandmother a stone’s throw away from the Hillside Inn, a private mental institution. Helen Hildreth, their ‘gran,’ is a prolific psychiatrist who works at the institution. One day she brings home a non-verbal young girl named Iris to stay with them. It’s all very mysterious with plenty of clues for readers to gather and savor for later. The three children have an immersive, exciting game they all play together involving classic monsters. Eric is cataloging their monster hunting in a book.

The present-day (2019) narrative involves Vi, grown-up, and hosting her own show, Monsters Among Us as “Lizzy Shelley” — a nod to her childhood fascination with monsters and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  She’s currently investigating a missing girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances involving a sighting of a monster. Again, McMahon teases the reader with just enough information to know that there is more to the story than we’re currently getting. This keeps the pages turning.

The Children on the Hill is so many things at once — a psychological thriller with a dark mystery at its core, and plenty of horror elements. The dual timelines work together well. The past has a dark, gothic atmosphere filled with dread. The other is a fast-paced suspenseful mystery. Sometimes in a book with back and forth timelines, there’s usually one that I’m favoring and I’ll feel mildly annoyed to return to the other one, but this book kept me satisfied with both stories. It would be too easy to spoil key plot points — this book has some intricately plotted discoveries. My recommendation here is for fans of McMahon’s The Winter People: you need to buy this book. It delivers that “it factor” you’ve been waiting for. For newcomers to Jennifer McMahon’s work, this would be a great introduction.

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