Book Review: “Penance” by Kanae Minato

Penance by Kanae Minato (2017)

Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Thriller

Page Length: 240 pages (paperback edition)


The tense, chilling story of four women haunted by a childhood trauma.
When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emily is found murdered hours later.
Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko weren’t able to accurately describe the stranger’s appearance to the police after the Emily’s body was discovered. Asako, Emily’s mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter’s murder.
Like Confessions, Kanae Minato’s award-winning, internationally bestselling debut, Penance is a dark and voice-driven tale of revenge and psychological trauma that will leave readers breathless. (description from Goodreads)


Penance is the second novel I’ve read by Minato. I was hooked by her writing style/plot from Confessions and wanted to read more of her work. The novel follows four young women who were traumatized by the murder of their friend Emily as young girls. The murder case was left unsolved and as a result the stress from guilt has taken a toll on hem since their childhood.

The story picks up into the present as the women are all adults, living their own separate lives far from the rural town where they grow up in. Like in Minato’s previous work Confessions, each chapter is narrated in the POV of all four women: Sae, Akiko, Maki, Yuka, and Emily’s mother. Readers get a glimpse inside of their minds to see what their lives are like and how they feel about Emily’s murder. Each one women’s personality is displayed her narrative; Sae is meek and constantly timid, Maki is very independent, but feels as if she’s a coward, Akiko is a recluse who is insecure about her weight, and Yuka is a mother-to-be.

Minato has an easy to follow narrative that is also engrossing. I found her characters to be very complex and shrouded in mystery. On top of that, the women are unreliable narrators. The readers can’t always trust their POVs, making each chapter a new puzzle that the reader strives to complete

Penance is a strong psychological thriller and the characters are faced with a flight or fight situation that takes them back to the day they’ve tried so hard to forget. They are given the chance to choose between penance and to find the true murderer, and we see how their final decision affects their daily life. As the book winds down to the end the tension arises, pieces start to come together and we learn more about what happened that fateful day.

There is not too much else I can say about this book without giving the plot away. If you love a good psychological thriller, I highly recommend Minato’s books!

*Trigger warning for some slightly graphic scenes.

Final Verdict:

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links!

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