BOOK REVIEW: The Need by Helen Phillips


Disclaimer: An advanced copy of this book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Publisher/publication details can be found at the bottom of the page.


Verdict: 4.5/5 Stars

A masked intruder upends a woman’s’ life in this beautiful piece of speculative fiction that explores motherhood, reality, loss and responsibility. 

An accomplished paleobotanist, Molly is also in the middle of an excavation project that has unearthed bizarre objects like a bible identifying God as a woman, an Altoids tin with proportions that don’t match any ever made, and a Coke bottle with a slightly different font than any ever manufactured. As Molly’s work begins to draw the attention – and anger – of the public for what many believe to be an elaborate hoax, she realizes she may not be as safe as she thinks. Home one night with her two children, Molly hears footsteps down the hallway. Terrified, unsure of her instincts, and desperate to protect her kids, Molly decides to comply with the masked intruders demands, not realizing that her choice could drastically change her life and the lives of those she loves most. 


The Need is an electrifying fever dream of a novel. Deeply emotional, brilliantly original, and totally engrossing, it’s exactly the kind of book to get lost in on a rainy day. Despite what its premise may lead you to believe, The Need is not a story about crime. A crime is simply the catalyst for Molly’s introspection on what it means to be a good mother. Though described as speculative fiction, The Need’s more otherworldly qualities are grounded by its believable characters and masterfully woven plot. It’s at once haunting and heartfelt, ethereal and painfully real, unsettling and undeniably satisfying. Fans of Karen Thompson Walker’s literary science fiction novels The Dreamers and The Age of Miracles will revel in the twists and turns and darkly beautiful prose of this story.

I was caught off guard by The Need, unprepared for its depth and confidence, and for how quickly I would fly through it, unable to pull myself away from Molly’s story. For all of its dark moments, The Need is also filled with genuinely funny quips and exchanges between Molly and her children and incredibly insightful musings on motherhood, marriage, reality, and growing up. It’s an ambitious book, but not one of unfulfilled potential. Helen Phillips has masterfully penned one of the more primal and outlandish books on motherhood, and that’s what will make it so relatable to readers.

She wondered if other mothers experienced it, this permanent state of mild panic, and worried that perhaps they didn’t, that perhaps something was wrong with her. What a phenomenon it was to be with her children, to spend every moment so acutely aware of the abyss, the potential injury flickering within each second.
— Helen Phillips, The Need

Motherhood, while constantly described as one of life’s more beautiful experiences, is undeniably challenging, exhausting, and existentially draining. What Phillips has captured in this book is the ways in which a mothers’ everyday choices are influenced by how much she’s slept, what’s going on at her job, whether her husband is being helpful, and a million other things. While it may be easy to judge what a mother’s decisions, if you step back and consider what you’d do in their shoes you might realize you’d do the exact same thing.

The Need is firmly in my top five choices for books you should read over the summer. It’s a beautiful and unique page-turner, and it’s about as impressive as they come.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Simon & Schuster Canada

Release Date: July 9, 2019

Page Count: 272

Genre: Speculative fiction, literary fiction

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