Reece writes a cautionary tale of victims, of self-named “mice.” Fifteen-year-old Shelley Rivers is turned to the object of her former three best friends’ scorn as adolescence turns them into aliens with multiple piercings and dyed hair, verbal attacks escalating by the day. Heavyset, unattractive Shelley, while confused by this turn of events, is fairly oblivious to the venom that follows her from class to class. Shelley holds her shame close, hiding the bruises, even from her mother, Elizabeth - also a mouse. A brilliant attorney and formerly a partner in her husband’s law firm, Elizabeth has just endured a humiliating divorce from her spouse, meekly accepting the crumbs of his disregard after eighteen years of marriage, accommodating his every demand in an effort to escape his wrath, her career opportunities diminishing along with spousal support.
When the prankster “friends” go too far, physically attacking Shelley and sending her to hospital, the traumatized teen finally cracks, sobbing out the horrors of her torture as mother and daughter, fellow mice, retreat to an isolated country home as far removed from outsiders as possible. Honeysuckle Cottage is idyllic, a panacea for all their ills with its lush gardens and beds of roses, classical music wafting through star-filled nights. Reece lets them play for a time, knowing such places exist only in fantasy. The night of Shelley’s sixteenth birthday, the devil creeps into paradise and tarnishes it forever. Shelley and Elizabeth are caught in a trap of their own design, life and death decisions made in a charged atmosphere where both realize the knife-wielding intruder will leave them dead as a stone if they don’t save themselves.
Such courage is hard-won, old behaviors dominating both mother and daughter as they struggle to loosen the heavy chains of victimhood and respond to threat. One might expect the beast to awaken, a call to authorities, a quiet return to normalcy and the security of the mouse house, with thicker doors and barred windows. While revenge is a dish best served cold, there are consequences and complications as these well-trained mice break free abandon the dangerous habits of self-abnegation. Once the beast has escaped, there’s no putting it back in the box, no wrapping it in chains and locks. A blood-soaked kitchen stands testimony to violence and the realization that “perhaps cruelty has a logic all its own.”
Reece mounts a two-pronged attack: one on personal responsibility for how we are treated in the world at large, and the other an indictment of a society that has turned a blind eye to a breeding ground for bullying, where legal threat and institutional cowardice are enshrined in a business model meant to optimize conformity and minimize rebellion. Easier to ignore the brave few who demand recognition of a sickness bred of complicity and the self-serving fears of those who don’t want to get involved.
The fact that Shelley is unattractive only adds to the thrill for her assailants: she doesn’t look like them, making her an obvious outcast. Society has no sympathy for those who fall astray of the herd. Equally frightening is the evident capacity for violence in young girls, a phenomenon formerly assigned to the male of the species, a ferocity women have long been aware of but an unacceptable trait in public perception. Monsters abound, but how we keep them in check is society’s ongoing dilemma, a rising tide of antipathy for “the other” an unfortunate sign of the times. That Shelley survives is purely circumstantial; Reece releases her - and Elizabeth - but how they use this newfound strength is a matter of choice.