Follow Me by Kathleen Barber
Published on February 25th, 2020 by Gallery Books
Synopsis: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.
Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.
But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.
Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.
Review: ***I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Gallery Books!***
Up until the last 30 pages or so, I would have rated this book as a solid four star. I struggled really hard to decide if I could keep it at a four star but I just can’t. That ending was bad. Really bad. The kind of bad that gets worse the longer I think about it. Almost Stephen King, giant spider bad. Okay, I’m being facetious now, it wasn’t giant spider bad.
This was a very compelling book. It starts with an introduction on how the author stumbled onto Reddit threads about installing remote access onto someone’s computer so that you can cyber stalk them without them knowing about it. That’s super creepy. And so this gave the author an idea and away we go. The complexities and problems presented by social media are interesting fodder for the fiction world. It’s unknown enough that you can really delve into the dark part of the human psyche and prey on the terror that lurks there. But it’s commonplace enough that millions of people seem to be okay with sharing every moment of their existence to an online audience that feels like a group of friends, but is in reality a bunch of strangers. It’s an interesting dilemma and this book told it well.
I did not particularly like Audrey, it is my one big complaint apart from the ending. She wasn’t very likeable. She is narcissistic, naive, self absorbed and more than a little bit stupid. The entire book is about her almost never doing her actual job and occasionally posting on Instagram. But most of the time she complains to her friends about her endless list of woes and vehemently denies that she has a stalker problem. She doesn’t come around to the idea that someone is stalking her until she literally catches someone peeping in her window. And even then she dismisses it rather quickly as just a creep, doesn’t bother to call the police, and goes about her day. She was a moron and I hoped (a little bit) that her stalker might end up killing her because she was too stupid to continue living. She proved this to me in the ending, which I will get to in a minute.
The stalker’s narrative is okay. It’s creepy at times but mostly just really pathetic. This guy comes across as so socially awkward that he might vomit on a woman’s shoes if she spoke to him. Once things started ramping up, however, I enjoyed his narrative quite a bit.
Cat, Audrey’s best friend, is quite possibly the most interesting character. She seems like an intelligent woman who doesn’t easily dismiss that Audrey might have a stalker and urges her to protect herself. None of her suggestions are listened to, but she tried. She is horrified when Audrey begins dating a childhood acquaintance of hers, Max, who knows a secret about Cat that she desperately doesn’t want Audrey to know. I got the sense throughout the book that Cat was in love with Audrey. Although that was never confirmed, I still think there’s some validity to the theory. Why else would you put up with someone so woefully stupid and self absorbed? And not just put up with her but idolize her too.
Now we come to the ending. So I am going to make this plain. This is a huge SPOILER. A giant SPOILER. If you do not wish to be SPOILED!!!! then please read no further.
Seriously, really big SPOILER ahead, last warning to jump ship!
So, the ending. They teased me a bit with who the stalker was, but I figured that Max HAD to be a red herring. The author was hitting me over the head with him being a suspect way too hard. And it just simply makes no sense. The idea that he ramped up the stalking to scare Audrey into coming to live with him for protection makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that you then continue to escalate the stalking behavior until she is frightened of you. WTF? You wanted her to be with you, check. You wanted her to live with you, check. You wanted her to be afraid enough to turn to you, check. And then you continue? Why?
Then we have a whole scenario where Audrey gets hurt in a confrontation with Max and Cat comes into the room and believes Audrey is dead. She has a conversation with Max about how he can’t help her and needs to leave, he says that at least he isn’t like Cat. And we get a whole long story about how Cat tried to kill someone at summer camp, and he’ll tell everyone about it if she doesn’t help Audrey. That part wasn’t surprising, the author had been leading us to that for most of the book. But then Cat decides that she needs to kill Max to prevent this. In the process she discovers that Audrey is still alive, and then proceeds to think “Oh no, did she hear us talking about camp? Well, I guess I better kill her.”
Wait, hold on, what? None of this makes sense. All of a sudden two rational people are acting like psychotic killers? Where on earth did any of this come from? And isn’t it a bit too coincidental that the person stalking Audrey for eight years just so happens to know her college best friend, and just so happens to know said best friend’s deep dark secret? Nope. There were so many better options available and this one was terribly executed.
Then we get to my favorite part. Audrey recovers and we flash forward to her moving into a new apartment and having a conversation with the old college boyfriend, Nick. Cat is apparently in prison, rightfully so. Max isn’t in prison, just a restraining order. Despite the fact that he was stalking you for eight years, broke into your friend’s house, got into an angry confrontation with you in which you proceeded to almost die. I don’t know that sounds like an arrest-able offense to me. And here is where Audrey proved to me that she is, in fact, too stupid to live. Behold this exchange with Nick:
“Be fair,” I said softly, “Max isn’t a psychopath. He’s…well, he’s not wired right, that’s for sure, but he’s not a psychopath. It’s not like he was going to hurt me.”
“You don’t know that. Just because he didn’t hurt you doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have.”
“He never would have hurt me.” I said with certainty, “He’s not violent. And he loved me too much.” (Page 284 of the ebook version)
Well, isn’t that just so romantic!! He loves her so much that he almost got you killed. But he’s not violent. Isn’t that so sweet! This is worse than all the romanticizing of domestic violence that was prevalent in Young Adult fiction for a while. He literally stalked you for eight years. He took thousands of pictures of you without your knowledge. He broke into your apartment and watched you sleep (Hey Edward! We see you!). He watched you in your apartment for weeks at a time. He intentionally terrified you so that you would move in with him. He demanded that you continue being with him and terrified you so much that you tried to run out of the house and fell down a flight of stairs. But no, you’re right Audrey, he loves you too much to be violent. She’s one of those people who writes love letters to Charlie Manson because “well he never killed anyone”.
So that’s it. A great book, with so much potential to be amazing and the ending completely ruined it for me.