J.T. Ellison’s latest thriller, Tear Me Apart, opens in Colorado with its steely young protagonist, seventeen-year-old Mindy Wright, poised at the top of a snow-covered mountain: “Barely one year into her adult career, she is killing it. They are comparing her to her heroes, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin,” Ellison writes. “They are talking about her parents, their sacrifices, and Mindy’s grueling training, the intense life she’s led, uncomplaining, with a smile on her face all the time. Sunny. They call her the girl with the sunny disposition. This sunny girl is going to become the world’s fastest female downhill skier in less than two minutes, and then what will they call her?”
The eyes of the skiing world are on this powerful girl, her devoted parents, and her charmed life, which up to now has been on nothing but an upward trajectory. But all that changes in an instant when a gruesome accident lands Mindy in the hospital. Unmoored by the sense of lost opportunity and momentum, Mindy is nevertheless determined to ski again as soon as humanly possible.
Her parents, Jasper and Lauren, are trying their best to keep it together for their daughter’s sake, but the stress quickly begins to seep through the cracks of their practiced façade. As Mindy is being wheeled into surgery, “Lauren has a moment of sheer panic. A premonition of sorts. Something is not right with their world.” Indeed, the Wright family’s general unease soon curdles into terror when the doctors discover that Mindy has an advanced form of leukemia. She will require an emergency stem-cell transplant to have any hope of surviving, much less skiing again.
The diagnosis plunges Mindy’s ordered, focused life into utter chaos. Mindy’s Aunt Juliet is a DNA researcher who assumes that one of Mindy’s own parents—or she herself—will be the ideal transplant donor for her critically-ill niece. But to her shock, neither she, nor Lauren, nor Jasper is a genetic match. A sickening realization sets in: their lives have been based on a terrible mistake, or an enormous lie, for Juliet knows as well as anyone that “blood doesn’t lie. Blood is its own witness.”
The truth of Mindy’s parentage unleashes the hounds of hell on the Wright family. For every question Juliet manages to answer, three more pop up in its place. Family lore, primal memory, and blood loyalties will all be called into question before the dust settles, and very little will remain sacred in this race against the clock to save an extraordinary young woman’s life—as well as expose and make amends for the lies Mindy’s world has been built upon.
With subplots that meaningfully address depression, mental illness, and suicide, Tear Me Apart is more than just a narratively satisfying thriller. It’s a flat-out page-turner that could catapult Nashville’s J.T. Ellison, already a New York Times-bestselling author, into the stratosphere. This is a big-concept mystery at its core, and Ellison masterfully unweaves the book’s many threads to bring her plot to a richly satisfying—if bittersweet—conclusion.
Kathryn Justice Leache lives Memphis, her hometown. Her life among books has included work as a librarian and stints as a bookseller at Square Books and The Booksellers at Laurelwood. She is currently working at Novel, an independent bookstore in Memphis.
Tagged: 2018 Southern Festival of Books, Book Reviews, Fiction