The Stranger Box, by Pamela Cuming, is a psychological thriller that is both shocking and entertaining. More importantly, it will keep readers turning the pages.
Eden is adopted by Carolyn and Robert Dengler. Their daughter, Samantha, loves to remind Eden that she’s adopted. Eden doesn’t exactly fit into the Dengler home. The housekeeper ends up having a strong influence over Eden and teaches her about plants and Voodoo. When tragedy strikes, Eden runs away from home to avoid being placed in a group home. Her trials and tribulations include living in the tunnels of the subway with a disturbing cult, quitting school to support herself, and her quest to discover her birth mother.
Katherine Blair, a famous Broadway actress, is Eden’s mom, but she goes to great lengths to keep Eden from finding out the truth. Katherine is a vain, selfish, and troubled woman. Unbeknownst to the actress, Eden is determined to find her and even though Katherine thinks she’s safe, Eden is much closer than the Broadway star thinks.
The characters in this novel are not easy to like. While the reader wants to cheer for Eden, it’s hard to at some points since Eden takes drastic and questionable measures. Her perception of right and wrong is skewed by her belief that the ends justify the means. The young woman is determined to make those who harmed her pay, no matter what. Yet, it’s hard to cheer against Eden since she is so young and everything she has to do to survive would break the average person, let alone teenager. Eden may not be the most likable, but she is a strong and brave. This duality makes Eden a fascinating character. The entire time it’s like watching a train accident in super slow motion. The reader doesn’t want to see what’s going to happen next, but is compelled to keep going.
Some of the novel may shock readers. At one point, Eden is living in the subway tunnels with a weird cult and many of these scenes, including a rape scene, are disturbing. This isn’t the type of story that will give readers many warm fuzzy feelings. It’s gritty, shocking, thrilling, and will stick with the reader long after finishing the final page. This may turn some readers off, but the author provides enough kernels of redemption to make the journey worthwhile, even if the ride is uncomfortable.
At times, it feels like the author overplays her hand a bit. So much goes on and some of the plot threads and characters are dropped suddenly and conveniently. The ending of the book is the most puzzling since some crucial aspects of the story are left undone. Does that mean that there’s a sequel in the works? Hopefully. There’s still so much more to explore in Eden’s life.
While this story isn’t the most cheerful, it’s hard to deny the fact that the author successfully pulls you into Eden’s world and shows the reader the good, the bad, and the downright ugly parts of human life. Cuming forces the reader outside of their comfort zone, making this a compelling and thought-provoking read.