Don't Turn Around by Jessica Barry #BookReview #BlogTour

Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America. Rebecca is trying to escape something. Cait doesn’t know what Rebecca has left behind her – she doesn’t ask any questions – her job is solely to transport women to safety. But the secrets Rebecca holds could put them both in danger.
Cait too has a past of her own – there’s a reason she chooses to spend time on the road, looking out for others. Because she knows what it’s like to be followed. As the two women travel across America, it quickly becomes clear someone is right behind them, watching their every move. The question is: who, and why?

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Don't Turn Around today. Many thanks to Jessica Barry and Jasmine Marsh from Vintage Books for inviting me and for my advance digital copy of the novel, received through Netgalley.

With its two engaging female protagonists and a plot which features a chilling cat-and-mouse road chase, Don't Turn Around could be described as Thelma and Louise meets Duel. It definitely doesn't stint on tension or drama but Jessica Barry's novel is also a thoughtful exploration of women's fears, particularly relevant to the Me Too discussions.
The two women make unlikely companions for a journey from Lubbock in Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rebecca is the wife of an ambitious congressman who has his sights on the Senate and beyond. He is wildly popular with the voters, the local boy returned home, she is seen as cold and detached. She wants to support her husband but misses California and it's clear that she is losing who she is as she attempts to fit into a role she doesn't want. Cait works in a bar where the required uniform includes Stetsons and Daisy Dukes. This isn't where she wants to be either, she's a writer but although she gets the occasional freelance job, she is still waiting for her big break.
The book opens with Cait picking Rebecca up in her Jeep and it's immediately obvious that this is not a regular trip. Cait seems to be helping Rebecca escape in a nighttime flit away - they hope - from prying eyes. The storyline is split between their journey and the events of the past which ultimately brought them here. So we learn that Cait wrote an anonymous article about a one night stand that became violently one-sided, hoping it may lead to more work but instead she soon realises just how dark some part of the internet are and how dangerous it can be for a woman to put her head above the parapet. Meanwhile, Rebecca is expected to allow heartbreaking aspects of her personal life to become public until she receives news which means she is no longer prepared to obediently follow her husband's wishes.
Both women have their secrets and so when they realise somebody is following them, they both believe they are the target. The clever switching of the narrative between past and present ensures that the identity of their pursuer is hidden for some time but there are several men in the frame. Although Rebecca and Cait are highly interesting characters - courageous yet scared, principled but flawed - the same can't be said of the men in the story. This is perhaps a rather one-sided novel which examines the worst of men without recognising that there are good men too but I understand why this is the case. This is a book about the strength of women and about the fears many of us can too easily relate to. We don't have to have experienced a violent attack to still feel dread when we hear footsteps behind us. From a young age we've all had the same thoughts, been given the same advice, the same warnings. Is that skirt too short? Is that top too low? Can I run these shoes if I need to? Be careful who you accept a drink from. Don't leave drinks uncovered. Stay in a group. Don't walk home alone. Don't take that route. Choose your seat carefully. Carry your keys in your hand. Are those footsteps getting closer? Don't give off the wrong signals. Don't be too friendly, you might give somebody the wrong impression. Don't look nervous, you'll look like a victim. Plan ahead, stay alert.
So this isn't the time for #notallmen, it doesn't need a man coming in to save the women. It's about Rebecca and Cait; their terror, their mistakes and their tenacity. It's also an disturbing look at the way society and the State - particularly in America - is increasingly claiming ownership over women's bodies and the choices they are allowed to make about them. As the pair join forces against their sinister predator, the book becomes even more nerve-wracking, culminating in a terrifying confrontation. 
This isn't the end of the story, however and the thoughtful conclusion allows for a satisfying ending while still acknowledging the very real issues affecting women in an increasing number of states in the US. Don't Turn Around is an excellent thriller, it combines a pacy, exciting plot which superbly communicates the essence of fear with an astute examination of contemporary topics. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Don't Turn Around is published in the UK by Vintage Books. Purchasing links can be found here but please support independent bookstores whenever possible.

Follow the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who has lived and worked in London for the past fifteen years. Look for Me, previously published as Freefall, her debut thriller, has sold in more than twenty-two territories around the world and has also secured a major Hollywood film deal.