The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes - Book Review

Write on: Fri, 28 Aug 2020 by  in Max's Reviews Read 2034

I love a good time travel story. I’ve also been curious about Lauren Beukes’s novels for a long while. When I saw The Shining Girls on a list of top time travel novels, the premise intrigued me enough to give it a go. I’m not quite sure I was ready for the wild ride that awaited me.

When Kirby is a little girl, a man gives her a toy and says he’ll see her again someday. Years later, as a young adult, Kirby is viciously attacked by someone in a park, but somehow manages to survive. Years later, Kirby makes it her mission to find her would-be murderer, along with the help of the former homicide detective who worked her case. What Kirby cannot even begin to realize is the fact that her attacker is a time traveling serial killer whose “destiny” is to murder all of the shining girls: girls like Kirby who have limitless life potential. 

This book is intense. Not only does the narrative follow Kirby throughout her life after the attack, but as the reader, I had to experience the brutality of the attempted murder on the page – and she wasn’t the only one. Beukes does a fantastic job digging into and unraveling the minds of her characters, and for Harper, we follow his story from pre-time travel Depression-era Chicago, to every murder he commits throughout time; we see his sadistic actions; we hear his savage thoughts; we encounter his pure – almost sexual – pleasure that he feels when he’s committing his heinous crimes. Like I said, it is intense.

“But she was the kind of girl you couldn't keep down. Unless you cut her up and caved in her skull.”

Likewise, Kirby’s character development is excellent, though not nearly as dark! She is a strong female lead who wants justice for what happened to her. Her relationship with Dan, the detective, is well-paced and believable; and he, as well, is an intriguing character to grow alongside. They’re both incredibly flawed, but equally likable. I found myself sharing in their pain and cheering with them in their small victories.

“There are only so many plots in the world. It's how they unfold that makes them interesting.”

Beukes also does a fantastic job at piecing together all of the plot points. I can only imagine how difficult it is to write a non-linear story – one with so many facets and entry points – and The Shining Girls is a shining example. Every time period, every moment, every character, every murder are thoughtfully researched, executed, and connected in seamless ways. It really is quite a feat. 

The Shining Girls is a genuinely disturbing psychological thriller that taps into the many layers of the human psyche and peels them back for the world to see. Many scenes can be difficult to stomach, particularly those involving Harper; but the moments of hope can be especially fulfilling.


Max’s passion for fantastic stories began with weekly trips to the comic book store as a child. Now an English teacher at a boarding school, he is always reading. Max has written for sites like Geeks of Doom and SF Signal, where he created the Indie Author Spotlight. Max lives in Connecticut with his wife – who graciously embraces his need to display action figures all over the house – and daughter, who is inheriting her parents’ affinity for books.