Paper Dolls by Lisa Bradley

Leah Wallace has just achieved her dream of becoming editor at a regional paper. On her first day a 15-year-old girl, Hope Hooper-Smith, is reported missing. The police fear that she has been abducted.
Hours later, another teenage girl goes missing. But this girl, Tilly Bowers, is from a troubled background and is a habitual runaway. Leah decides to run the Hope’s abduction on the front page, while Tilly only gets a small mention on page eighteen. The next day, Hope is found unharmed at a train station. But Tilly is never seen or heard from again.
Sixteen years later, a TV documentary questions Leah’s decision not to give Tilly’s case immediate coverage, implying that she could have cost Tilly her life, and Leah starts receiving death threats online.
Then mysterious paper dolls begin appearing, cut from the newspapers Leah used to edit, and she suspects that an intruder has been in the house. Leah becomes convinced that someone wants to punish her for the part she played in Tilly’s disappearance. But just how far will they go to make her pay?

Please be warned this review contains details of the plot, characters and events.

Paper Dolls is a psychological thriller which has you gripped from the very beginning.

When Leah makes the decision to put the white, blonde Hope on the front of the newspaper instead of the black, troubled Tilly, it changes her life forever.
The book follows Leah as a new documentary airs, focusing on the ‘missing white woman syndrome.’
Already consumed with guilt over choosing Hope as the main story, Leah then has to deal with the disturbing appearances of paper dolls and candles as well as the mysterious noises and occurences within her home.

I found my view of Leah changing throughout the book. At the start, I found myself warming towards her as she battled inner demons and struggled to keep a hold of her mental health. However, some rather questionable decisions, especially about Sam, left me wondering whether the events were actually all her doing.
The author very cleverly weaves in Leah’s past battles with her mental health, alluding that she might actually be the one who is planting the dolls, candles and spooking herself.
Some of the events of the book left me feeling quite uncomfortable. I didn’t like the way that some of the characters made Leah question her sanity, her judgement and the way she looked after her son, Luke. Even though she did come across as over-protective, I couldn’t even imagine having to cover some of the stories she did as a reporter/editor and I am not surprised there was some lasting effect on her. Also, there is no way I could live in a house with bi-fold doors and no curtains looking out onto a forest!

The males in the book are not the best example of supportive, masculine role models and I did find myself getting extremely frustrated with them throughout.
Chris often failed to see just how much help Leah needed and the distress he was in. He seemed more pre-occupied with his work and training his new secretary, Alice. I don’t think he was necessarily a bad person, he just didn’t know how to empathise with Leah; his go to response was for her to go to the Doctors which ultimately forced her into the arms of Sam.
Sam. Well I definitely was not a fan from the start. Admittedly, his back story did tug a little at the heartstrings and made him out to be this loving, caring man who I thought might have ended up being the hero of the story. But he soon just became too full on too quickly. He always seemed to just be there when Leah was in distress or needed someone to talk to which did make me question whether he was involved in her harassment. I didn’t guess about his true character until his physicality became too much for Leah and then everything clicked into place.

I love reading thrillers and one of my favourite parts is trying to work them out. I did not work out this ending. I had an inclination that it might have been to do with one of the characters, but not to the extent of the final reveal. Being honest, I found the reveal a little bit too quick and almost rushed at the end after all of the build-up. However, I did really like the final chapter where one final twist was revealed; I would definitely be intrigued to read a book from that character’s perspective.

One of the main highlights for me in this book is the portrayal of the media and how they reinforce ‘missing white woman syndrome.’ If I was in Leah’s position, I think I probably would have made the same call; all of her sources were pointing towards Hope’s disappearance being more pressing and Tilly’s merely another attempt to runaway. Does that make me a bad person?
It is plain to see that the media disproportionately focus on missing white, middle/upper class woman over BAME women or those of a lower social status. I class myself as an educated, open-minded woman but I have honestly overlooked this issue. This book has brought it to the forefront and I can’t believe how obvious it is. Madeleine McCann is a prime example where even 13 years later, she still appears in the headlines a number of times a year. I am not saying that the case should not still be open but what about all of the other children who go missing daily? I was astounded to read that a child goes missing every 2 minutes in the UK. But how many of these do the media cover and project around the country?
Without sounding too morbid, if I think back to all of the missing children I can think of, they are all white: Milly Dowler, Sarah Payne, April Jones, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. They are all white girls from a ‘good’ bakground; they fit the mould the media want to envoke empathy and concern from the public. But what about Hannah Williams? Elizabeth Ogungbayibi? Kadia Diane? Or any of the other young people with a BAME background or a lower social status?
With the Black Lives Matter movement, we can only hope that this will go some way in changing the way the media present missing people.

If you are a fan of thrillers, I would recommend picking this book up. It is fairly fast paced with interesting characters and narrative.

A huge thank you to Quercus for the gifted copy of the book.

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