Best friends Sarah and Jennifer are very aware of the dangers the world holds, and so they create a Never List—a list of things they will refrain from doing in order to keep themselves as safe as possible. And for years, the list works. But it all goes wrong with just one small slip-up, and for three years, Sarah and Jennifer are held captive in a basement, and only Sarah makes it out. Ten years later, Sarah is a recluse who avoids contact with the world, but when she gets the chance to find out what happened to Jennifer once and for all, she must put aside all her fears in order to bring justice for her best friend.
The Never List is a disturbing psychological thriller about one woman facing the horrors of her past. Sarah is completely broken when the novel begins. She’s given up even trying to put up a front of normalcy, opting instead for a hermit-like in her apartment. It’s completely understandable why she has such difficulty facing the world, so it’s really rewarding when she begins to pull herself out of it. Sarah has amazing depth in her character, and it’s incredible how strong she is, what resources she finds to draw from when she needs to.
But Sarah is far from perfect in The Never List. From the beginning, the reader knows that the women who were held captive with Sarah and managed to escape as well have some sort of resentment, some grudge against her. But what happened? The story unfolds in flashbacks, slowly, and it’s a very effective technique. As Sarah must deal with the difficulties of the present, trying to decode the letters her sadistic captor has sent her in order to find out how exactly he’s playing with them even now, years later, she also has to remember that which she’s tried so hard to lock away in her memories. What these girls went through is the stuff of nightmares, and Sarah’s experiences will keep you up late into the night.
While The Never List is primarily a psychological thriller, it also has other elements to it. Sarah plays a bit of the investigative journalist as she tries to uncover more about what was really going on inside her captor’s mind. It takes her into many different secret, closeted worlds. Zan does a great job balancing the information aspect of the story with the twists and turns; she keeps the novel moving at a fast, steady pace as the reader follows Sarah along for this difficult, but somehow cathartic, ride.
It’s difficult to believe that The Never List is a debut novel. Koethi Zan writes with a surety, a confident hand that is usually only found with the most seasoned of writers. She develops her characters well and balances the storyline very effectively. This book is definitely disturbing and difficult to read at times, but if you enjoy psychological thrillers, it’s absolutely a book worth reading from beginning to end.