Review: The Never List

The Never List

The Never List
By Koethi Zan
(Pamela Dorman Books, Hardcover, 9780670026517, July 2013, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

Riveting as fiction, but absolutely gut-wrenching given the timing of this novel’s release.

The Rest of It:

Sarah and her friend Jennifer are like sisters. They go to the same college, share the same room and have the same fears. They create a “never” list as a way to protect themselves, but their one slip-up leads to them being kidnapped and when they are held hostage in a cellar with two other women, chained naked to a wall, and slowly starved into submission, Sarah’s memories of that night haunt her. When Jennifer is singled out by their kidnapper, Sarah’s hope fades away. Does anyone survive such a thing?

In this case, yes.

Ten years later, Sarah is living in NYC in a comfortable, well-appointed apartment complete with security and a doorman. She works from home and whatever she needs, she orders because going outside puts you at risk for all sorts of things, and she’d rather stay home. behind her good, solid door. But her kidnapper, Jack Derber, a former psychology professor at the University of Oregon is about to go up for parole and the FBI is in the process of preparing Sarah and the two other survivors for the upcoming hearing. Except, one survivor wants no part of it which puts even more stress on Sarah. And then there’s the fact that Jennifer, her best friend never made it out and reliving those years sends her into a panic attack. Getting regular letters from Derber is not helping either but at the same time, she feels compelled to read them. Hoping and praying to find a clue about Jennifer’s whereabouts.

This book is as dark as you’d expect it to be, but it was especially difficult to read given the real-life abduction case of the women in Ohio. There are many similarities between this story and theirs but this book was written well before their situation even hit the headlines so it’s just pure coincidence that both stories involve three women, held for a long period of time, chained and tortured and somehow, they made it out alive.

I feel the need to split this review up into two sections:


Zan’s handing of the characters is what immediately drew me into the story. Their personalities, their fears and the way they carried themselves after such a horrific event, seemed very authentic to me. That goes for all of the victims involved. The supporting characters? Not so much. They seemed to fit a certain stereotype and I would have liked it better if they hadn’t been so black and white. If they had a bit more depth I would have been more forgiving but they seemed one-dimensional and a tad flat.

The story was compelling and I found myself totally absorbed every time I sat down to read it, but at one point, the story got a tiny bit ridiculous. In my head I remember saying to myself, that would never happen. Unfortunately, that one moment took me right out of the narrative and I became overly critical from that point on. Plus, the ending didn’t seem realistic to me. A sadder, but more realistic ending is what I anticipated so I was a little thrown off by the direction the story took.

That said, I very much enjoyed the first half. It had just enough detail to set your teeth on edge but not enough to turn you off to the story. Most of what happens to these women is left up to your imagination and I was fine with that. I think this is important to note because I know a lot of readers who would prefer not to read about violence against women. The second half was not as enjoyable for me and was a little too pat for my liking, but if given the chance, I’d absolutely read another book by this author.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

24 thoughts on “Review: The Never List”

    1. Since their kidnapper is a professor of psychology it makes for a good psychological thriller even with the weak 2nd half.


  1. I’ve been on the fence about this one, but it’s getting such good reviews. I don’t know if I could read it right now, but maybe down the road.

    I hate it when something happens in a book that pulls me out of it. It can really color my opinion of a book in the end.

    1. What I absolutely could not shake, was the timing of its release. Those poor women in Ohio. I kept thinking of them while reading this one. Wondering if they had similar feelings since their kidnapper is still alive too. I was so glad when I saw on the news that the Castro house was demolished. Good riddance!


  2. Ti, this one was gripping! I couldn’t put it down and it creeped me out the whole time I read it. I do agree that it wasn’t the best written book and that the story and characters do fall a bit flat after awhile, but somehow it kept pulling me in. And yeah, the timing of the book was weird – definitely had me thinking of Ohio.

  3. Ah yes, the tiny bit ridiculous bit is something I’ve read in a few reviews of this book.

    1. If a slip-up landed you in a cellar, you wouldn’t slip up in a similar fashion EVER again. Would you? UGH. I wanted to slam my head against something.

    1. The premise is terrifying given that it happens all the time. Abduction. Especially long term abductions. We just don’t hear about them often because hardly anyone survives!


  4. Nope. I don’t even want to read this review since I know I really don’t want to read the book. Sorry. (moving to your next post…)

  5. Sounds so scary! Not so much when you read it in a “make-believe” story but being able to correlate a real kidnapping to the story would truly scare the S*&t out of me. I probably would only be able to read it in daylight!!!

  6. This story sounds chilling and what a coincidence that it came out so close to reports of the case in Ohio. I find stories like this attract me as well as paralyze me, especially when I know it can really happen. It’s disappointing that the ending doesn’t coincide with the part of the book that’s realistic…this kind of thing really irritates me! Did it seem realistic that Sarah’s receiving letters from Derber? It doesn’t sit completely right with me re: the FBI. You certainly piqued my interest in this book! Thank you!

    1. The letter thing seemed a little odd but they were trying to build a case against him so he wouldn’t be paroled, so maybe they thought the letters would help with that. The other thing, is that the same psychologist was seeing all three women and she thought it would be good “therapy” to read the letters as they came. The chances of one therapist treated all three women would be rare, I think.


  7. I’m torn about whether to read this one or not. I don’t like reading about abduction in fiction. It is one of those topics I feel the need to be really real before I can read about it, or else I keep getting bugged by the story elements. That said, this has been getting plenty of good reviews and I don’t want to pass it up either.

  8. Hmm, well, I’ve been on the fence about this one and given the problems you grew to have with it, I think I’ll pass. Too many books that have greater potential I think.

    1. It was slow going in the second half for sure. I was okay with the first half but the second half was so ridiculous. Tried to email you directly but the email address you used isn’t legit.

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