Review: Opposite of Amber by Gillian Phillip

Posted 16 March, 2011 by Danny in / 7 Comments

by Gillian Philip
Publishing: April 4, 2011
Links: Amazon
Book provided by The Teen {Book} Scene for fair review
Synopsis from Goodreads

‘They found the fifth girl right after the snow melted …the place where he left her was winter water, crazed with ice-feathers and dusted with snow. The traces from her body were gone, the ones that said his name, but she had an extra skin of ice that protected her and she looked perfect, like Snow White’.

Ruby and her older sister Jinn live together on their own, just about making ends meet. Jinn is beautiful, with glittering blonde hair, and makes it her business to look after Ruby. They are horrified by, but try to ignore, the local newspaper stories of prostitutes who are murdered, their bodies eventually discovered underwater. Then the no-good Nathan Baird turns up on the scene – again – and Jinn starts to change. First Nathan moves in with Jinn and Ruby, making Ruby feel an outsider, and then Jinn and Nathan move out, leaving Ruby alone. Jinn no longer has time to look after Ruby. And it seems to Ruby that Jinn herself needs looking after. Her beautiful glittering hair starts to lose its shine. And then Jinn disappears. A deeply moving, chilling, and incredibly powerful thriller that celebrates the love two sisters have for each other and mourns the events beyond their control that will conspire to drive them apart.


From the start, Ruby, the main character and narrator in this book, is dealing with a lot of issues. The story begins with her obsessing about her classmate, Alex, who attempted suicide by jumping off a roof. After she had told him to “take a running jump.” Of course she didn’t mean it and she actually had taken an odd shine to the boy but he caught her in the midst of flirting with another boy, Foley, and she made a snide remark like anyone would have done, never expecting Alex to take her literally.

Guilt and isolation seem to be reoccuring themes for the other characters in this book. Ruby’s sister, Jinn, makes up for their mother’s lack of maternal skills by becoming Ruby’s de facto mother, even before she dies. And then there’s Foley, torn between desire for Ruby and guilt over his part in Alex’s injuries. None of which is made easier by Ruby’s exceptionally taciturn behavior. Still, as the story gets underway, everyone seems to have settled into a palatable, if not wholly happy routine.

Then Nathan Baird, the town’s notorious bad boy, returns and sets his sights on Ruby’s sister, Jinn. What little life Ruby has starts to circle the drain, being sucked away by Nathan, his issues and Jinn’s all consuming love for him.

Woven throughout the story of the disintegration of Ruby’s relationship with her sister is the story of a mass murderer and his five victims, all prostitues (or at least mistaken by the killer to be so), all found floating in the water weeks to months after their deaths, all physical evidence washed away. As the story goes on, it becomes clear who that fifth girl is. And Ruby has to face growing into her own person, with her own voice, or find herself lost as all those around her disappear.

Initially I had a hard time getting into this book. It wasn’t the characters, who are intriguing despite their individual sadness, but rather the colloquial language used, as this story is set in Scotland, and a Scottish author. But after a while, I got into the rhythm of it and found myself fascinated by Ruby, thankful to have the insight into her thoughts denied to those around her by her monosyllabic behavior. And through her I fell in love with Jinn, her glittering older sister who was so integral in giving Ruby the love she needed while at the same time complicit in letting Ruby remain infantile in her silence. There are a host of well formed, fascinating secondary characters in this story too, each with their own tale to tell, each searching for salvation, just like Ruby.

Bottom Line

This a sad but fascinating character driven novel that will haunt you long after you put it down.

I give it 4 out of 5 books!

Final Notes

I was able to read this book by taking part in a blog tour hosted by The Teen {Book} Scene. If you check out this tour’s page on their site, you’ll get the opportunity to see some other bloggers’ take on this book AND get to read some character interviews on a couple of the sights.

Nathan Baird himself will be showing up here in a couple weeks to answer some questions. Nothing spoilery, of course, don’t worry about that, though it wasn’t easy when I had so many SPOILER questions I wanted to ask him. Anyway, check back on April 4 to see how Nathan and I got along!

Now go and get lost…in a book!

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7 Responses to “Review: Opposite of Amber by Gillian Phillip”

  1. This is one of those books that I'm on the fence about. I'll have to watch for more reviews and see if more like it as much as you did. It sounds good, but a bit depressing and I've had a lot of depressing books lately. But sometimes that's not a bad thing and it may sit better with me sometime in the future. Thanks for the great review!

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  2. Small_Review

    Excellent review! I feel like I have a much better understanding of this book now. Thank you for the warning about the writing. It sounds interesting that the sister is the one with the all-consuming romance and not the MC. I'm not completely sold yet, but I'm curious.
    My recent post Book Review- Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

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  3. hrose2931

    Pushy-_Very vivid review! Despite the apparent bleakness and sadness this novel seems to have, you've made me want to read it. I don't mind the colloquial Scottish, especially forwarned. I feel like I have to read it now. __Heather

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