Five Total Strangers by Natalie Richards

A teen thriller that keeps ratcheting up the tension, in the midst of a blizzard Iowans will understand all too well, Five Total Strangers is a suspenseful tale of not-so-chance coincidences and danger that creeps in from every direction.

For Mira, nothing has ever been the same since her aunt died last Christmas – especially since she had to leave her grieving mom to go back to school across the country. Now, it’s Christmas again and Mira is desperate to get home and be there for her mom, but the weather isn’t cooperating. Her connecting flight was just grounded, so the only way to get home in time is to accept a ride from her charming seatmate and her friends. But once underway, Mira realizes that none of her fellow passengers know each other, and she just can’t shake the feeling that something sinister is going on – especially when their things start to go missing. And all the while, the roads just keep getting worse…

The genius of this book for me is the tug-of-war between logic and instinct, as Mira struggles between what her primal, gut-level feelings tell her about a situation and what her logical, civilized brain says. I thought this brilliantly captured what it’s like to be in a scary situation in today’s world, where we know the odds of danger and catastrophe are low…but never zero. The descriptions also vividly conjure up all the unpleasantness and otherworldliness of road travel, including car sickness, dingy rest areas, and dicey gas stations, all overlaid in this case with an unspecified menace, coupled with the frustrating uncertainty and powerlessness that comes with being young. Interspersed with the chapters are ambiguous handwritten notes which suggest nothing is as coincidental as it appears, and which help the tension build to a twist you probably won’t see coming.

Those who like thrilling, suspenseful mysteries, locked room mysteries (with a mobile twist), and vivid casts of characters (all hiding secrets) will want to try Five Total Strangers – if only to remind themselves why winter road trips are an absolutely terrible idea.

This book is also available on Overdrive.

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