Book Review: Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel

Title: Just Like Mother
Author: Anne Heltzel
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication date: May 17, 2022
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A girl would be such a blessing…

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…

Just Like Mother is a creepy thriller about young survivors of a mother-worshipping cult, who in turn grow up to be damaged and potentially dangerous adults. I was drawn to this book by the synopsis — but quickly realized that this book was more manipulatively disturbing than necessary.

Maeve and Andrea are raised by the Mother Collective, but their cult is raided and disbanded after 8-year-old Maeve flees and turns them in. As an adult, Maeve is a talented editor who lives a lonely, disconnected life, until a DNA test reunites her with Andrea once again.

Andrea is now the head of a tech and lifestyle company with a seemingly limitless fortune, and she wants nothing more than to spend time with Maeve, although discussion of their early years is strictly forbidden. As Maeve spends more time with Andrea and her husband at their isolated country home, things get weird… and that’s about all I’ll say about the plot.

The story goes in awful, frightening directions, but honestly, I didn’t find any of it credible. The plot is designed to shock and disturb, but didn’t present enough insight into the characters or situation to make any of it truly believable. (For example, I never did understand Andrea’s company and how she came to be so successful — it does involve robot baby dolls, though, which… ew).

This book absolutely should include content warnings: Rape, imprisonment, loss of bodily autonomy, abuse… the list goes on. It’s unpleasant and anyone triggered by these topics should definitely avoid this book.

Why two-stars instead of just one? Well, I did keep reading. The book held my attention, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. The ending is pretty terrible, but by the time I got there, I didn’t expect any other outcome.

So many elements feel familiar in this book — shades of everything from Stepford Wives to Rosemary’s Baby to Gone Girl, among other examples. I think the author was probably going for terrifyingly creepy, but for me, the overriding feeling was being pissed off and disgusted.

I can’t say that I recommend this book at all… but if you have read it, I’d love to hear other points of view!

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel

  1. Can’t say I wasn’t interested. The plot is honest to goodness thriller/suspense, but I know how you feel about the world building and characters, sometimes we don’t feel attachment or we cannot relate to because somehow, there’s something lacking. and baby doll as cover? caught my attention but freaks me out. Never liked playing with one as a child, bec. I hate how its eyes follows your around. I think I’ll pass. 😅🙈

  2. I’m writing my review of this today, and you’ve made some valid points! I liked it more than you but I think because it was so over the top, it didn’t bother me as much that the story wasn’t believable. But yes, all the trigger warnings for this one!

  3. I’ve been very curious about this book – the cover is very unsettling for me but then I find ‘doll’ covers to be a bit creepy so really don’t want to even imagine robot dolls – and so I was waiting to see some reviews. I think maybe not in this case, sounds a bit too disturbing.
    Lynn 😀

    • Doll covers are definitely creepy! And the dolls in this book are supposed to be very lifelike, so they wouldn’t actually look like this, but still, they’re really bizarre and awful to think about. There are definitely some more positive reviews out there, but I personally don’t think you’re missing out by not reading this!

    • I knew a book about a cult would have to be disturbing, but I thought more in a mind games sort of way. Definitely did not expect the type of content that I found here — I would not have chosen to read it if I’d known in advance.

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