My Name is Anna

Written by Lizzy Barber

Review written by Carole Tyrell

Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.

My Name is Anna
Century Penguin RandomHouse
RRP: £12.99
Released: January 10 2019

It’s Anna Montgomery’s 18th birthday and it’s the first time that she’s ever lied to Mamma.  Instead of hiking in the local woods, she and her boyfriend Will visited the forbidden theme park, Astroland.  But she didn’t enjoy it as her mind filled with echoes of her disturbing dreams in which a woman calls her by another name.  It’s the name that’s on an anonymous hand-delivered card that she finds later in their mailbox. A necklace is also enclosed featuring a cross with a lily entwined around it. Someone’s sending her a message that will change her life forever.

Meanwhile, in Islington, 17-year-old Rosie Archer and her family are preparing themselves for the forthcoming 15th anniversary of the disappearance of Emily (Rosie’s elder sister). Emily vanished on a fairground ride at an American theme park and has never been seen again.  Rosie knows, after seeing an email left out in the kitchen, that the Emily Archer Trust Fund set up in her sister’s name is about to run out of funds and may close.  Rosie has lived in the shadow of Emily’s ghost throughout her entire life. Now she determines to find out the truth and begins to trawl through the theories of online detectives.

Two families on opposite sides of the Atlantic become unknowingly linked by a tragic event. Its ripples are now beginning to spread outwards again with two mothers determined to protect their children and keep them close. Especially when a journalist warns Rosie about a dubious and shadowy Christian sect led by the charismatic Father Paul called The Lilies.  They are represented by the symbol of a cross and entwined lily.

What connects them to Anna and Rosie and to Emily’s disappearance? 

This is a deft and assured debut novel from Lizzy Barber, winner of a national newspaper first novel competition. The story is told alternately by Rosie and Anna as they reveal their different backgrounds. Anna is a small-town girl who lives a somewhat isolated life with her deeply religious Mamma, whereas Rosie is a teenaged Londoner. 

Barber convincingly handles the effects of Emily’s disappearance on her immediate family. The lack of closure, the yearning and guilt with the wraith like presence of Emily forever 2 years old in an Astroland T-Shirt.  

There have been several high-profile disappearances in recent years such as Madeline McCann and Suzy Lamplugh; and the families lives seem to be on permanent hold, while trying to maintain normality; and the author conveyed the Archers situation sensitively, mirroring those real-world cases.

As Rosie says of their unwanted celebrity ‘Everyone seems to be so hungry for fame they don’t know how much I would swap it all in an instant to be anonymous.’

The overall plot is a good concept, and Barber makes it credible as the narrative alternates between the two families, and their unknown connection - without giving too much away. 

It was a gripping one-sitting read, with the author’s observations enlightening  (i.e. when Rosie’s parents have an argument, she describes it as ‘they spend their year stuffing all their thoughts and feelings into a drawer  like unwanted clothes , but eventually it gets too crammed and bursts open.’ )

With Anna and her Mother, I felt distinct echoes of Stephen King’s Carrie in that they’re both outsiders.  There’s also a mention of a bucket containing red liquid being placed in her locker to drench her as a further echo, but I wasn’t sure why the Carrie connection was there as the story didn’t need it; however, both families are outsiders, as the Archers live under the glare of an unwanted spotlight.

The ending isn’t a ‘happy-ever-after’ conclusion, instead it’s more thoughtful and considered one, making a hugely compelling finale. 

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