By Cynthia Ayala
“A” is back, and they are not alone. After years of torture, these four pretty little liars are at the end of the line. Terrified and paranoid that “A” is around every corner, Hanna, Aria, Emily, and Spencer are trying to put the pieces together to find out who A is and destroy the hold she has them once and for all. But that’s easier said than done.
One of the common themes of the series is the constant throw of red herrings into the plot. It’s both so incredibly frustrating to the reader, but it’s also thrilling because it’s throwing so many clues of at the reader making believe each and every one of them. The reader has no idea who is working with Alison because let’s be honest, “A” is, at least, the psychopath Alison. However, she can’t be everywhere at once, and she is not going to have some secret lair with high-tech gear like on the show, which is both unbelievable and ridiculous.
The novel is believable because stalkers in the real world can be incredibly and terrifyingly creative when they stalk someone and Shepard uses that realism to ground the story. So here, it’s finally proven that two people are stalking these four girls, and they know everything that is going on, what they are doing and what they are thinking. They are smart these stalkers, and the reality of that is genuine and terrifying. That is what makes this such a good novel, because it feels real, and that is what keeps the tension and suspense up in this novel.
Let’s be honest, this is a lengthy series. This is the thirteenth book, and the plot is the same: a certifiable psychopath is stalking four girls. It was evident in the last arc that Shepard was losing her steam in the series. However, the character growth and how they development with all this madness surrounding their small lives is maddening and it is driving these girls crazy. Everyone in their lives is a suspect to these girls and what’s governing these girls is fear and paranoia giving the girls tunnel vision. Written poorly, it could be annoying, but written well, it draws the reader in and makes everything understandable.
Shepard is great at pulling out all the stops to bring back the energy to the series with the non-stop tension. Shepard makes it tough for the reader to figure out what’s true and what’s just a ploy even though on the outside it seems like everything is truth. That just means the reader has fallen into the tunnel vision alongside these girls, trying to put all the pieces of all their lives together. The mystery of it is well constructed even though it feels a bit contrived at times. It’s hard to imagine their stalker following them to places like Iceland or Jamaica, but it happened, so the reader has to follow that along and go along with it. These girls are pretty privileged so it’s safe so assume that their other stalker, Alison’s secret partner, is well connected and just like them: a rich kid no one can imagine stalking anyone.
All of that combined made for a very thrilling and well-constructed story. The characters have come so far but their fear leads them to fall into the same traps, and it inspires sympathy for the characters. The fear and paranoia are causing these girls to feel so unsafe, making their evolution and reactions realistic. Crushed relies on that realism, and that fear to draw the reader in making for a fast read. (★★★★☆ | B+)