Book Review: Unspeakable Things

01.01.2020 | Thomas & Mercer
Rating: 4/5 stars


Cassie McDowell is growing up in the small Minnesota town of Lilydale in the 1980s. She lives on a farm, loves going to school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Behind the rosy exterior there is more to Cassie’s life. Her parents are known for strange parties where deviant and potentially illegal activities take place. Residents of this small community have always turned a blind eye on these parties, but now that there are local boys going missing and being assaulted, the town’s suspicions are on high alert. When the boys come back they are changed. They are violent, moody, and withdrawn. Cassie’s life is turned upside down as she finds her sister changing in the same way. 


UNSPEAKABLE THINGS is a coming of age story for Cassie McDowell who is growing up in a rural town filled with secrets and deception. Her life isn’t safe from these threats, as her own home could have a connection to the abductions of several young boys. This story is laced with suspense and dread, as the reader navigates through Cassie’s life experiences and the events happening in Lilydale.

Often with works of crime fiction there is a detective or police presence that drives the case forward, however, with UNSPEAKABLE THINGS that is not the case. Jess Lourey smartly weaves the crime in this novel into a coming of age story that allows the reader to experience the crimes and town’s reaction through Cassie’s eyes. While our narrator may be young, that doesn’t stop her from having an incredible insight into her hometown and those who live there. Using Cassie as a narrator also brings home the impact these abductions have on their victims as Cassie watches the returning boys change. 


The coming of age aspect of this book is truly what drives the plot forward. Cassie is coming to understand who her parents are, their complex relationship, and the reality of the parties they throw. She is learning that the people she should trust the most may not deserve that place in her life. It is through Cassie’s own awakening that the reader can explore the abductions. I loved that Lourey gave Cassie a bit of a Nancy Drew flare, as she investigates what is happening in Lilydale. For such a young main character, Cassie is complex and insightful with just enough naivety to be true to her age. 

Knowing that the author based this story on real experiences from her own hometown made the story extremely impactful for me. I could feel the heart and love for the characters that Lourey put into her novel. UNSPEAKABLE THINGS is a book that really gives the reader a lot to unpack and while most things are wrapped up neatly, there are a few loose ends that I wish were more finalized. Despite being left wanting a bit more, I still walked away feeling a true appreciation for this book. I look forward to reading more from Jess Lourey!

This book is available to buy from: Amazon | Book Depository

Disclosure: What Jess Reads is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way influences my opinion of the above book.

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