Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Jenny is a busy GP and a mother of three teenagers. Lately she’s been lamenting that fifteen year old Naomi doesn’t tell her as much as she used to, doesn’t confide in her anymore. Naomi is growing up and it seems as though Jenny is left with remnants of the girl she used to be as her daughter moves into the age of experimenting with who she is, pushing the boundaries.
And then one night, Naomi doesn’t come home.
She said she was having dinner with the cast of the school play/musical she’s performing in but when Jenny begins phoning, that is set for another day. Naomi has been seen talking to an older boy outside of the rehearsals and now she’s vanished. It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Jenny’s mind is filled with horrible things that could’ve happened to her daughter. After all it has to be something dreadful because Naomi would never put them through this agony. She’d let them know where she is, that she was safe.
One year later, Naomi is still missing. Jenny’s life has fallen apart. And she thinks the only way that she can ever put it back together is to finally find out the truth about what really happened to her daughter.
I had heard great things about this book before I started reading and it was with equal parts excitement and trepidation that I started it. I thought I was in for a good story, one that could possibly be difficult because of the topic. As I’ve had my own kids, I’ve found that stuff like this can really have an affect on me. I always try and put myself in the position of characters in the novel and when it’s something like a child going missing, that can be very difficult.
Jenny and her husband are both doctors – she’s a GP at a clinic and he’s a more career-focused neurosurgeon who performs difficult brain surgery and is gaining a bit of a reputation as a hotshot. They lead incredibly busy lives, her husband Ted works long hours and is often on call and seemingly misses a lot of family events. Jenny works more stable hours but she’s out of the house a lot as well. They have three children, seventeen year old twins Ed and Theo as well as fifteen year old Naomi.
This book is amazing at detailing how a family can look one thing from the outside and be something completely different underneath. The perception I got from the brief glimpse before Naomi’s disappearance was slowly, carefully unraveled page by page as secrets and ugliness came into the light. No one is who they seem, least of all Naomi. The innocent teenager that used to confide in Jenny was gone, leaving her mother to deal with the reveal of the true Naomi, all that she had become.
I began the book feeling sorry for Jenny. She’s the sole narrator and the book swings between Naomi’s disappearance, the days leading up to it and shortly after as well as some year later, when Naomi still hasn’t been found. As a mother I could identify with Jenny, her fear and her tendency to assume the worst. At times I felt as though her husband dismissed her concerns or was relatively unsupportive. In the days Naomi was first missing he still went into work and it seemed as though that preoccupied a lot of his mind. The more I read of the book the more it’s revealed that he was keeping secrets about himself and also about Naomi.
But much as the book unraveled this family, it also unraveled my thoughts about Jenny. Her children painted a different picture of her, one that didn’t seem to mesh with how she saw herself as a mother. The twins were clearly troubled too, one particularly so and he and Jenny have a very difficult and fractured relationship. That twin at times made me incredibly frustrated because it seems as though he can get away with doing and saying anything and nothing ever comes of it. Jenny overindulges him and spends the whole time being wounded at everything he says. He’s 17/18 throughout the story but seems much older, full of adult aggression and disdain, a disdain that he seems to reserve in a more vitriolic way for his mother, despite the actions of his father both before and after Naomi disappears.
I really enjoyed this book and the way it was told – up until the ending. It’s hard to discuss in a review when you don’t love the ending, because you don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the book. But I thought that the portrayal of the family, the secrets and the way that they thought they knew each other but didn’t really, was brilliant. Jenny’s demeanor and actions after Naomi’s disappearance felt real to me, she acted in a way I could easily believe the mother of a missing child might. I also understood her driving need to have to know what had happened to Naomi, even if was unspeakably horrible. Living in limbo was torment, I would imagine it would haunt her every waking hour and even the ones she was asleep. Jenny also seems the only one who is really unable to ‘move on’ so to speak – her husband is traveling, lecturing, working. The twins are also moving forward, doing things, or dealing with things. All of these things I can understand. I can get. I feel as though they work with the story, but the ultimate ending didn’t work for me. It felt too easy and yet also, there were too many unanswered questions. It bothered me, I actually had to go back and re-read the last few pages, trying to see if that would help alleviate the feeling of disappointment in how it had ended. It left me feeling a bit deflated, even though I had prior to that, been absolutely engrossed in the whole story.
7/10 – still would recommend it, because it is fantastically written for the most part and others definitely may not feel the same way I did about the ending.
Book #264 of 2014