A Novel


#1 New York Times bestselling author Haven Kimmel makes an exhilarating foray into psychological gothic territory with the electrifying story of a young woman emerging from layers of delusion, fantasy, and lies.

With her astounding intelligence, fierce independence, and otherworldly lavender eyes, college senior Trace Pennington makes an indelible impression even as questions about her past and her true identity hover over every page. From her earliest years, Trace turned away from her abusive mother toward her loving father. Within the twisty logic of abuse, her desperate love for him took on a romantic cast that persists to this day, though she’s had no contact with her family since she ran away from home years ago. She’s eked out an impoverished but functional existence, living in an abandoned house, putting herself through college—and leading a double life: at school she is Ianthe Covington, a young woman with no past.

Trace’s solitary life is upended when she and her literature professor fall in love. As it becomes apparent that he has his own dark secrets, she’s forced to face herself and her past. After recovering a horrific, long-suppressed memory, Trace finally copes with the fallout from her brutal childhood. This unique portrait of the psychological effects of trauma is tantalizing, shocking, and ultimately hopeful.
  • Free Press | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416572954 | 
  • August 2009
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Haven Kimmel. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Brilliant, unconventional college senior Trace Pennington has eked out an impoverished, solitary, but highly functional existence in the years since she ran away from her abusive home. But when Trace finds love with a much older man, her life is upended and she's forced to face herself and her past. After recovering a horrific, long-suppressed memory, she discovers that much of her present-day life is a carefully constructed delusion. With equal parts genius and psychosis, Trace copes with the fallout from a brutal, bizarre childhood in a heart-stopping story that explores both the terror and wonder of mental illness.

Questions for Discussion

1. The opening line of the first chapter is among the most shocking imaginable: “I never had sex with my father but I would have, if he had agreed.”  What was your reaction to this confession?  Did you make any assumptions about the narrator or anticipate what might follow?

2. What do you later learn about Trace’s affections for her father?  see more

More Books from this Author

Kaline Klattermaster's Tree House
The Used World
She Got Up Off the Couch
Something Rising (Light and Swift)

About the Author

Haven Kimmel
Photo Credit:

Haven Kimmel

Haven Kimmel is the author of The Used World, She Got Up Off the Couch, Something Rising (Light and Swift), The Solace of Leaving Early, and A Girl Named Zippy. She studied English and creative writing at Ball State University and North Carolina State University and attended seminary at the Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Durham, N.C.