An Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks: Spoiler Discussion

This post is full of spoilers, so STOP READING AFTER THE FIRST SECTION if you don’t want to know the ending (or other details).

An Anonymous GirlFiction – Thriller
Released January 8, 2019
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)








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Y’all know I have an incredibly finicky relationship with psychological thrillers. But, I think I’m starting to figure out one element that can make me like them: having part of the story told from the perspective of a psychologist or psychiatrist. I like to dig into people’s minds and have always had a weird fascination with the brains of serial killers. So, psychological thrillers that are heavier on the psychological and lighter on the thriller tend to work for me. An Anonymous Girl fits this bill.

It’s less reliant on action and outlandish plot twists…the suspenseful question is not what will happen, but who you can trust. The beginning of the story sucked me in in a creepy, unsettling way. There was a “WTF is going on” vibe (What exactly is this study about? What does Dr. Shields want with Jess?) and Dr. Shields, the psychiatrist in this story, gives off a Herman Koch vibe (especially like Dear Mr. M and Summer House with Swimming Pool). This book is a giant mindf*ck!


Who’s the puppeteer in this drama?

I went back and forth constantly on this question. Obviously, Dr. Shields is set up in the beginning to be the character you should definitely not trust.

But, as the story progressed, there were moments I thought Thomas was behind it all. Why was he hiding his affair with April…to the point of inventing a fake affair with Lauren from the boutique? The moment when he revealed he’d purposely texted Dr. Shields to make her think he was having an affair made me think he was controlling far more than I’d thought…that he knew how in love Dr. Shields was with him and used that to get her to take certain actions.

Then, at the very end, I thought maybe Jess was pulling a lot more strings than I’d thought (more on that below when I talk about the ending).

With whom did your sympathies lie throughout the story?

My sympathies shifted between characters throughout the story. In the beginning, my sympathies were with Jess. She was a hard-working girl trying to make it in the big city while carrying around this huge burden from childhood (that she’d locked Becky in her parents’ bedroom the day she fell out of the window) and also trying to help her family out financially. But then, the way she treated Noah irritated me. She wasn’t as pure good as I’d thought.

I was never super sympathetic towards Thomas until the very end. He seemed to be manipulative and arrogant. But, he did go out on a limb to help Jess get out from under Dr. Shields’ thumb. And, he lied to protect Jess from Dr. Shields by telling her that he and Jess never slept together. In the end, I feel like he was just a guy caught up in this crazy web that he couldn’t get out of and was trying to mitigate the damage. I more felt sorry for him than anything else.

By the very end of the story, my sympathy for Dr. Shields actually grew. I’d always thought she was a cold, calculating sociopath…but, the situation was more complicated than that. Yes, she was calculating. But, she was driven by her love for Thomas, which sociopaths aren’t capable of. And in the end, she was willing to sacrifice herself for him. I think she was just an unhinged woman who became incredibly dangerous because she knew how to read and manipulate people through her profession. If she hadn’t been a trained psychiatrist (and so good at it), she’d probably just be a run-of-the-mill woman driven crazy by a man.

And, coming back around to Jess…she seemed much colder and more calculating at the end of the story (see below for more).

Did you ever think Jess was starting to lose her mind and inventing things that didn’t really happen?

Around the 42% mark, I suspected Jess was starting to lose touch with reality. I wondered if she was overly paranoid and was imagining everything that happened in her life was orchestrated by Dr. Shields.

While a lot was (chicken soup on the doorstep?!), I do think Jess was becoming somewhat paranoid. But, I kind of can’t blame her.

How did you interpret the ending?

The end of the Epilogue totally threw me for a loop. Jess blackmails Thomas for money…granted it’s to help her family and Jess was put through the wringer by Dr. Shields. Dr. Shields got Jess fired, ruined a promising relationship, and did promise to help Jess’s father financially. But, the whole encounter left me cold.

And how about these last lines after Jessica confronts Thomas with her blackmail proposal?

Perhaps you are confident in your decision. Or maybe an insistent question will haunt you: Was it all worth it, Jessica?

Is this implying that Jessica orchestrated this entire thing start to finish and actually used Dr. Shields and Thomas? That was my first thought, but it seems highly unlikely given how the story unfolded. She got into Dr. Shields’ study by accident, but is there a possibility Jess somehow found out about the study and arranged to do the make-up of one of the participants? I feel like there’s no way that could’ve happened. Too many pieces wouldn’t make sense if that was the case.

So, what does that last line mean? Did Jess just start orchestrating at a certain point in the story (when she realized she could get something out of it for herself and her family)? Or, did she really just think she deserved what Dr. Shields had promised her family and that she’d suffered so much that she deserved to be compensated? I’m guessing it’s probably the middle choice.

But, is there something I’m missing? What else could that last line mean? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

Let’s discuss! What did you think of An Anonymous Girl? And, how did you interpret the last line of the Epilogue?

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  1. Susan wrote:

    All three of the main characters were unlikeable in their own way. First up Jess, I felt like she was young, immature, greedy, slutty, mostly I thought she jumped into the “research” study impulsively not thinking about the potential consequences. How ironic her lying to get into the study right? Mostly I thought she needed to grow up and hopefully become a better person.

    Secondly, Dr. Shields, she was a nut, and obsessed with Thomas. It didn’t take me a long time reading this book to think that the psychologist was “off”. I didn’t see her killing herself coming. I felt like she was going to try and break Jess, and drive her to kill herself like she did with April by costing her the things and people she held dear to herself like her job and the new relationship with Noah. However,Dr. Shields underestimated Jess quite a bit.

    Finally, Thomas, who was a unethical psychologist sleeping with his patient April, and then lying about who he slept with to his wife. I felt like Thomas was just your average ordinary every day cheater nothing special. The fact that he stepped up towards the end to save Jess was a case of to little to late, and it didn’t make me like him any better. I think Thomas got what he had coming when Jess black mailed him. I didn’t see any regret in Thomas that he cheated on his wife more than once. Thomas just seemed to be sorry he got caught. However, I think Jess better watch her back now that she is black mailing Thomas who knows what he will/would do to protect his secret and she has the goods on him. To answer the last question I bet Jess would think it was worth it because of the pay day she received sure she had to go through some drama but she cashed out and survived in the end plus she got a clean slate with her parents.

    Posted 1.18.19 Reply
  2. Who’s the Puppeteer? – To me Dr. Shields was definitely the lead puppeteer. Both Thomas and Jess tried to wrestle control from her, with mixed results. Until the very end, she was able to stay one move ahead of anything they tried. There were a few times when I also thought that Thomas had a lot more control and that the story might turn, but that never really happened. Jess moved from idolizing Dr. Shields, to being terrified of her, to finally standing up to her, and no one else had ever really been able to do that.

    Sympathies? I never felt truly sympathetic to any of the characters. There might have been a touch of sympathy toward Dr. Shields just because she “loved” Thomas so much, but even that felt like such a sick sort of love. Thomas I didn’t like or trust. He was unethical in his profession, marriage, etc. and he didn’t have the balls to get out of his marriage. I do appreciate that he helped Jess in the end. Of the three, I guess I was more sympathetic to Jess. I think her backstory was weak and that made her motivation for getting into the study, sleeping around, etc. weak. I also thought that her ignoring her gut feelings about Dr. Shields for so long was a stretch and that made me less sympathetic. I was happy when she finally took things into her own hands.

    Jess Losing Her Mind? – I never felt like Jess was losing her mind. In fact, I thought she should have started feeling paranoid sooner!

    The Ending? – In my notes on this book about the very end I wrote, “Good for you , Jess.” I liked that she went after Thomas for money. It fit with her character and the backstory of her family needing help. She got into the study to be able to help them and was willing to lie and manipulate to get in it and that was only for $500. She went through hell, and felt entitled. She had a lot of dirt on Thomas and she knew it. She took power for herself. Yes, she was completely unethical in doing so, but she was never ethical or moral to begin with. Getting Thomas to pay her was in character and I appreciated that she was still out working and trying to make a life for herself. That last line did not make me think that Jess had manipulated the whole thing. I thought more that it was just sort of the final dig from a now dead Dr. Shields – Was pushing Dr. Shields to suicide, losing Noah, crossing so many morality lines worth the payoff that Jess gained for her family. And, I think Jess would answer, “Yes.” In the end, Jess had a more honest relationship with her parents and was going to be able to provide for them, and got back to work she enjoyed. Putting the trauma of those months aside, all Jess really lost was Noah, which was barely relationship to begin with. It was all worth it!

    Posted 1.18.19 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      On the ending – I think you’re right. There are just too many logistics that don’t make sense when I think about Jess orchestrating it from the beginning.

      Posted 1.22.19 Reply
    • Mariye wrote:

      Great synopsis… And thank you for reminding that J cheated her way into the research just for $500,checking someone else’s phone, lying etc…i forgot about that bit, and I just finished the book in the morning! I was very surprised by Thomas’s “change” to help Jess all of a, sudden after all his lies, I thought that didn’t make much sense in the turn of events. Also if Noah really liked her that much, that should not have been the end of things (speaking from experience..) I guess he didn’t really. PS. What are some other books you liked?

      Posted 8.3.19 Reply
  3. Madeline wrote:

    For a short time I thought perhaps Dr. Shields (Lydia) and Thomas were in it together. Perhaps some twisted form of entertainment for two married psychiatrists. Then I thought perhaps Jess was more than she appeared. Perhaps working for the Private Investigator hired by “Subject 5″‘s family. After all, she finagled her way into the study.

    But at the end of the day, the sociopath did it. I’m not sure if Lydia loved Thomas or was merely obsessed with him. She refers to owning people in various parts of the book.

    And did Thomas stray more than once? There was April — which was more than merely straying as she was a patient. Not only morally repugnant but also could have ruined his career. But he didn’t have an affair with Lauren. If he fabricated that affair in order for Lydia to terminate their marriage, why did he participate in their attempts to recover the marriage?

    There was some stuff that didn’t connect. When Jess is trying to research Lydia and Thomas she finds loads of background on Lydia but can’t locate ‘Thomas Shields.’ She figures it’s not his last name. But when she goes to his office and has Noah standing outside, she tells Noah she’s going to see ‘Thomas Cooper.’ But I don’t think she knew his last name until she saw it on the door.

    April had been in and out of therapy since high school and her parents knew and paid for it. But when she goes to see Thomas, her parents don’t know. But by the time of her death, hadn’t they found this out? And wouldn’t they have made the connection between Thomas, Lydia and the study that April briefly participated in?

    This book falls into my usual pattern of liking an author’s first psych thriller better than their subsequent ones. I liked The Wife Between Us substantially more than this. I gave that 4*. This will be 3.25-3.5. I also thought the first half of this dragged; a little judicious editing would be helped.

    Posted 1.22.19 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Interesting thought about Jess being hired by Subject 5’s family…I hadn’t considered that while I read it, but I can see in hindsight how that could be a possibility.

      I missed the whole thing about Thomas’s last name.

      I think he participated in Lydia’s attempts to recover the marriage b/c he knew how crazy she was and was scared of what she’d do if he cut her off entirely.

      Posted 1.22.19 Reply
    • Rachel wrote:

      Thomas also slept with Jess, so he did cheat more than once.

      Posted 5.10.19 Reply
    • Shaana wrote:

      Yes!! I noticed that about the last name too. Bad editing.

      Posted 5.28.19 Reply
  4. Catherine wrote:

    Oh, Lord, so much analysis! I fall in the camp that the last line is Jessica questioning herself- kind of in the way the survey did. Was it worth it? I think it was. Money was her guiding principle and she needed it to help her family.

    I liked the book, but the drama and the details got to the point where I was dizzy. That Dr. Shields was SO aware that she could tell Jess aligned the folders the wrong way? C’mon. It’s a detail that wasn’t necessary.

    Having said all that, I was mesmerized enough that I read the book in two sittings.

    Given that you like psychology and serial killers, have you watched The Ted Bundy Tapes on Netflix? Unbelievable. I remember those times but seeing it and hearing his twisted take freaked me out.

    Posted 1.31.19 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      There were a TON of details to remember and I definitely didn’t remember them all. I kind of thought Sheields had a bit of OCD. Everything in her life was so pristine and organized. I do think an OCD person would notice the folders.

      I saw a trailer for that documentary! And I’m fascinated…read Ann Rule’s book The Stranger Beside Me about him..but, I also couldn’t sleep while I was reading that so am a little nervous to watch the doc. I’ve got to be careful with that kind of stuff that involves breaking into people’s houses if I want to sleep 🙂

      Posted 2.5.19 Reply
  5. Caity wrote:

    A detail from the book I kept waiting to be addressed was how, when Jessica and Thomas meet while helping the woman hit by the taxi, Thomas was with a woman. “A thirty something couple next to me immediately takes charge” and “the couple bent over Marilyn are both attractive and wear business clothes and glasses”…is it ever said who this woman was? A fellow therapist?
    I thought this would play a part in some sort of twist ending but it never did.

    Posted 3.1.19 Reply
    • MELANIE SNIDER wrote:

      I kept waiting for that, too! It clearly identified the man and woman helping the victim as a couple. Also, who was the lady with the camel-colored coat who went into Thomas’s building? (Page 91)

      Posted 5.17.19 Reply
  6. Sallie Rodman wrote:

    I was dizzy with trying to figure out who was manipulating who. I did read the book in two days and the ending confused me. Still don’t know the meaning of the dove on the funeral pamphlet. Am I dense? I got everything else. But would a reticent woman like Jess jump to blackmail? That was a stretch for me. People don’t change that fast. The ending epilogue was horrible. There are lots of unanswered questions. Lydia said she never gave April the pills. Did Thonas? They were his. Did someone miss that sentiment in the editing?

    Posted 6.24.19 Reply
    • Mariye wrote:

      I didn’t understand the but with the dives either! How, was that paper so important? Just because of the quote from the song..?
      Lydia kind of admitted giving April the pills when in the end she said, let’s just say she took them from our cabinet, it was clear those were his pills… But then she goes to get 30 vicodin on a fake prescription.. Highly doubt it, I think most you get is 10 at once

      Posted 8.3.19 Reply
  7. Tia wrote:

    While it wasn’t perfect I really liked this book, I couldn’t put it down from the moment Jess realized that she’d had sex with Thomas. At the same time I was really disappointed with her blackmailing him at the end. I guess the whole experience made her a worse person but I was really disappointed that she did that, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Posted 7.8.19 Reply
  8. Mariye wrote:

    It’s the bit with the doves in the beginning of my comment, sorry =)

    Posted 8.3.19 Reply
  9. Lisa H wrote:

    Why was Lydia making herself seem ill early on in the book? Do you remember this? She wanted her body temperature to drop more and seem like she hadn’t been sleeping. Did I completely miss something??

    Posted 10.3.19 Reply
  10. Lorr wrote:

    2 loose ends I didn’t get – if anyone can clear them up for me, I’d appreciate it! What did the silver rings Lydia wanted for Christmas signify? Also, why did Lydia think a glass of water had kicked off the events surrounding Danielle’s death?

    Posted 11.8.19 Reply
    • Joy wrote:

      Jess would spin a stack of silver rings when she was nervous. It was Shields toying with her husband to observe how he would respond.

      Posted 11.15.19 Reply
  11. Kristine Johnson wrote:

    Did I miss something or what was the present she gave her at the end? I listened to it on audio and was cleaning my room, so feel like I missed a few things!

    Posted 11.27.19 Reply
    • Aspen wrote:

      I just finished the book lol and the present was a picture of Thomas in someone’s bed (not Lydia’s) I dont remember who’s bed it was as I would have to re-read the whole part 3 to find the familiarity but I think it’s April’s. There would be no need for Jess to record this as she was trying to keep this under wraps from Noah and Lydia anyway. Jess probably also had access to this from some instagram or something? I’m not sure but the most probable would be April’s room. Oh yes and I believe Jess said Thomas left at like 1 am so he probably didn’t sleep at her place. (Sorry I know this thread is super old but just in case you still wanted to know)

      Posted 8.1.20 Reply
      • Lauren wrote:

        The picture was from April’s Instagram account. Which was a big plot hole for me. Lydia did all these crazy over the top things to manipulate her husband and she had never looked at April’s Instagram account?

        Posted 11.8.20 Reply
  12. Jennifer wrote:

    Great insight and addition to my completion of Anonymous Girl! I took the last line/question as simply that- will the decision to blackmail be something that haunts Jessica. Similar to how she was haunted by keeping her secret about her sister quiet all those years.

    Posted 8.4.20 Reply
  13. Toni wrote:

    I think both Jess and Thomas knew that they had turned the tables on Lydia. Just like Lydia set up everything perfectly for April to take her own life, they did the same to Lydia. I mean Jess arrived to Lydias at 6:30. This inquiry between the three of them took and hour or two tops. So its still early evening when Thomas says he is leaving Lydia and taking Jess home. Telling her he will come back in the morning so they can call the police. And just to drive home the fact that Lydia has nothing left to live for, Jess leaves the pic of naked Thomas in someones bed. They set her up just like she set up April. Thomas and Jess may have started out as victims but they found their way out in the end. Morally justified? Hmmm

    Posted 8.16.20 Reply

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