Review: The Birthday Girl by Melissa de la Cruz

by Heather Caliendo
The Birthday Girl - Review - Book Club Chat

Editorial note: I received a copy of The Birthday Girl by Melissa de la Cruz in exchange for a review. 

The Birthday Girl by Melissa de la Cruz is an interesting domestic suspense about what happens when the past catches up to you.

Melissa de la Cruz is the author of fifty (yes, fifty) novels! Her critically acclaimed novels includes Disney’s Descendants novels, the Blue Bloods series and the Alex & Eliza trilogy. Witches of East End became an hour-long television drama on the Lifetime network. The Birthday Girl marks Melissa’s return to adult fiction.

The story follows Ellie de Florent-Stinson, a wealthy fashion designer who throws her own forty birthday party at her new swanky Palm Springs house. It appears Ellie has everything she ever wanted: a handsome husband; an accomplished, college-age stepdaughter; a beautiful ten-year-old girl; adorable and rambunctious six-year-old twin boys; lush, well-appointed homes in Los Angeles, Park City, and Palm Springs; a thriving career; and a dazzling circle of friends.

Except everything is not quite as perfect as it looks on the outside—Ellie is keeping many secrets. And hiding those skeletons has a cost, and it all comes to a head the night of her fabulous birthday party in the desert—where everyone who matters in her life shows up, invited or not. Old and new friends and frenemies, stepdaughters and business partners, ex-wives and ex-husbands congregate, and the glittering facade of Ellie’s life begins to crumble.

Two timelines

The story alternates between the present at Ellie’s birthday party and to the past when she was a trailer-park teen. The differences between these two eras in Ellie’s life is quite significant and impactful. I was engaged with both storylines and felt that they helped move the story forward. Melissa’s background in YA really helps paint the picture of life as a teenager. But the writing is just as strong when Ellie is adult. The two timeline format isn’t always easy to pull off and Melissa does a fantastic job at that.

Character study

While this is marketed as a suspense novel, I really felt it was more of a character study. Ellie’s life takes quite the dramatic turns and not all is what it seems with her. And you know that something bad takes place on that 16 birthday but I would be shocked if people guess exactly what happens. Ellie is an interesting character—she’s pretty vain as a 40-year-old but there’s many layers to her. And I will say, despite the heavy subject matter, some of her inner thoughts are actually pretty humorous as her birthday party spirals into disaster.

There is some pretty insane and traumatizing events that happen that I feel with a lesser writer might have become too dramatic but Melissa really pulls it off. This one is very much about confronting and accepting your past in order to move forward with your life.

Final thoughts: an entertaining character study about a woman with a very complicated life written by an extremely talented writer.

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