My Sweet Girl

Berkley. Sept. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9780593335086. $26. SUSPENSE
DEBUT Paloma Evans has issues. She’s drinking heavily and believes she’s being haunted by the ghost from a Sri Lankan folk tale; plus, she’s just had a falling-out with her parents that can’t be repaired. On top of that, her new roommate Arun has learned her darkest secret and is blackmailing her. She returns home one day, having resolved to deal with Arun—only to find him dead at the kitchen table. When police arrive at the apartment, there’s no body and no sign that the young man (an undocumented immigrant) ever existed. Paloma has already fled. She seeks refuge at her parents’ empty house, where she spirals into an alcohol-fueled breakdown and is tormented by the ghosts of her past. The narrative switches between two timelines: in one, 12-year-old Paloma is living at an orphanage in her native Sri Lanka; in the other, the present-day Paloma (now 30 and living in San Francisco) makes desperate attempts to escape the past but only magnifies her misery.
VERDICT In her debut novel, Sri Lanka–based Jayatissa is a master of first-person narration as she delves into questions of identity--how individuals perceive themselves, and the tendency not to see others for who they really are. Her fast-paced mystery, with an unreliable but sympathetic narrator, will hook readers from the very beginning, but the twist ending might leave them disappointed and unsatisfied; the frequent profanity may also be problematic for some readers.
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