Three months ago, I discovered Little Darlings by Melanie Golding thanks to Book of the Month. Its spooky cover and title captured my interest, and with the description, I was sold. Along with Riley Sager’s Lock Every Door and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, Little Darlings become my third and final July 2019 pick.
Little Darlings turns what is normally a joyous, heart-warming event – motherhood – into folkloric horror. It all starts when Lauren Tranter gives birth to twin boys, Morgan and Riley. The childbirth is excruciating, and Lauren feels all kinds of confused feelings, but she’s ready to love her boys. Then, while still at the hospital, an evil woman – a witch? – tries to convince Lauren to trade one of her twins with one of the witch’s creepy offspring. Of course, Lauren says no, locks herself in the bathroom, and calls the police, only to be told no one was ever there.
Fast forward a few weeks, and Lauren – now at home with her boys – has become a bit of a hermit. Her husband and friends encourage her to get out of the house, so one day she does. But in an unlikely accident, Lauren loses her twins for just a little while. When they’re found, safe and sound, Lauren is certain they’re actually the witch’s demon babies. She’s sure they’re actually changelings. And based on an old book she recently saw on the subject, there’s only one way to get her real twins back: drown the changelings.
Little Darlings launches into an eerie tale that’s reminiscent of old folklore like that by the Brothers Grimm. What do you do when an evil magic has taken your babies, even when no one else sees the truth? How far can a mother go to save her children, despite barriers going up to prevent any action at all?
The novel plays heavily with the unreliable narrator trope. Is Lauren right about the witch and changeling twins? Or is she suffering from fatigue and a mental breakdown? Can her perceptions of reality be trusted? What if even the detective on her case is starting to see what Lauren is seeing?
During the chapters focused on Lauren, you can’t help but believe her. She must be right; someone stole her kids, and she needs to change the twins back now! But on the other hand, your logical brain says she must be wrong; she lost her mind, and the babies must, sadly, be protected from their own mother.
Between Lauren’s chapters, we also have sections focused on the second lead, police officer Joanna Harper. She’s the voice of reason here, trusting her instincts that something is indeed wrong, but finding evidence to back it up. What’s up with Lauren’s suspicious husband? How is this incident connected to something similar that happened years ago?
Joanna’s parts are helpful in moving the story along and giving it more depth. However, in some ways her chapters felt distracting at times, with unnecessary backstory and an unneeded romance. Despite that, though, she did give readers an added sense that Lauren isn’t completely out of her mind.
By the end of the book, you’ll feel thoroughly unsettled and still not entirely sure who or what to believe. Take the clues as you will, because Little Darlings leaves you with a few interpretations. The ending is bittersweet and open to your imagination, allowing its disturbing vibes to linger long after the last page.