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Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

The Lost Girls
Jennifer Spence
Simon & Schuster AUS
2019, 338
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A haunting tale of love and loss that will make you think twice …

What would you do if you had the chance to change a pivotal moment from your past?

How far would you go to save someone you loved?

These are just two of the fateful choices a woman must face in this highly original and hauntingly evocative detective story of love and loss.

At the core of the enigmatic Stella’s story, past and present, is a mystery she is compelled to solve, a beautiful young woman who went missing fifty years ago – and a tragedy much closer to home she must try to prevent.

As Stella unravels the dark secrets of her family’s past and her own, it becomes clear that everyone remembers the past differently and the small choices we make every day can change our future irrevocably.

This book was something that had my attention from the first page. I honestly ended up so much more involved in the story than I ever expected to be going into it.

Stella is returning home when she finds that she cannot open the door to her apartment block. In fact, it doesn’t even look the same anymore. When she walks around the corner to her old house, she’s confronted by herself – from 20 years ago. Stella immediately sees an opportunity to right the greatest tragedy of her life. She passes herself off as an aunt to herself from 20 years ago and infiltrates her old house, determined that her small actions change the course of history.

What a fascinating premise for a novel and Jennifer Spence executes this so well. Stella gets on a bus to go home and finds herself back in 1997. Opal cards for public transport don’t exist. Her mobile phone has no service – and no charger cord in this ‘now’ either. Most importantly of all, she can observe her own family from the point of view as an outsider. But of an outsider who is terribly invested in the future, because she is the future.

It begs the question – what would we change, if we could? If we could go back in time to some arbitrary point in our lives. Maybe it’s a point in time where the most innocent of things triggers a terrible event. Maybe it’s a decision, a crossroads, where later on, you know you picked the wrong choice. What would you change about your life, if you could? And if you were able to go back and alter that path, in small subtle ways…..what would you set in motion?

Because the thing is, when you go back in time….you can’t just ‘fix’ things and everything will all be fine. All actions have consequences, which is something that Stella discovers the longer she stays in the ‘before’ time. It creeps up on her slowly, so slowly and the way in which this is written is so good. Stella has excellent motivation for wanting to be able to change things and I understand that. And when Stella goes in, she goes in knowing that she might alter the outcomes in some ways but create different issues so she tries to be subtle.

Stella is able to interact with her family from 20 years ago by pretending to her 1997 self that she’s an aunt, a woman who vanished as a teenager years ago. The mystery of what happened to Linda has definitely been something that hung over the family, particularly Stella’s mother, who was in her teens when Linda was born and played a significant hand in raising her. This gives Stella a way of being involved quite intimately with the family without having to ingratiate herself, as Stella-in-1997 is more than willing to accept that her aunt who hasn’t been heard of in decades has just randomly turned up on her doorstep. She’s given a different perspective on not only her marriage but also the lives of her children and the relationships she had with them at the time.

It also gives her the opportunity to explore Linda’s disappearance, given the reactions of certain people when she ‘shows up’ again. It’s always been something that people have never been able to answer and caused the family and others a large amount of pain. Stella’s time warp becomes the key to finding out what happened to Linda and why. I really enjoyed the struggle of Stella to ‘be’ Linda, especially around her family. She has to sort of keep her distance from her own children even as she desperately wants to help them (ie interfere). She also gets the chance to interact with her mother (who is deceased in the 2017 timeline) and even though her mother knows she isn’t really Linda, she seems drawn to Stella anyway and is willing to give her a chance. I really liked the way that Stella proved that she was really from the future – she does it twice and her second list encapsulates all the big moments that the average Australian is likely to remember from 1997-2017.

I don’t read a lot of time travel books but I always really enjoy them. It’s something that I think intrigues people because of the chance it gives them to either experience a different timeframe/lifestyle or to change something that they think was a mistake or could better their lives in some way. This was really intriguing and I enjoyed Stella’s journey and her attempts to change a path of a loved one. I’ll definitely be looking out for Jennifer Spence’s future books.

9/10

Book #23 of 2019

The Lost Girls is the 6th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: The Lost Girls – Wendy James

Lost GirlsThe Lost Girls
Wendy James
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 280p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When the journalist approaches her, Jane doesn’t want to talk and she’s not happy that her daughter gave out her contact details. But Erin, the journalist, is quietly persuasive and Jane finds herself believing that there might be some value in talking about her experiences. It’s to help others, she tells herself. Erin is making a radio documentary on the impact on a family when a member is murdered. It’s supposed to be a tool to help others work through their grief.

Jane finds herself talking about a time long ago, when she was 12 and her cousin Angie 14. Angie was on the cusp of being truly stunning, already beautiful enough to turn heads everywhere but with the promise that she was going to blossom even more in the years to come. Both Jane and her brother Michael worshiped Angie and battled for her attention during the summer holidays when Angie was spending time with them. Angie reserved a little time with Jane, watching a movie or something but then they would walk up to the shop a couple of blocks away under the pretense of needing to buy cigarettes or milk or bread for one of Jane’s parents. Jane would linger as long as she dared and then make her way home with the items. Angie would stay and play pinball with Michael and some of his mates. She was older, the boys wanted her hanging around them. They didn’t want Jane.

Then one day, Angie never comes home. A massive search turns up her body several days later in bushland nearby. It sends shockwaves through not only Jane’s family but also the small and tightly knit northern beaches community, who believe that such things don’t happen in their area. Although Jane tells herself that she dealt with what happens to Angie, that they all did, she begins to wonder when Erin questions them all, Jane, her husband Paul, her brother Michael, her mother Barbara, about what happened to her and how they felt. Each of them have a different version of Angie that they remember, but which was the real one? And after all these years, will they finally find out who killed her?

A couple of years ago I read The Mistake by Wendy James which cemented me as a fan of her books. I also read one of her earlier novels, Out Of The Silence which was an entirely different setting but rife with the same sort of complex relationships and mystery that marked The Mistake. When I heard about this one, I couldn’t wait to read it. And right from the beginning, this story had me utterly engaged. Blended in a mix of past and present, it gives you Jane’s perspective of that summer, one that is tainted with how she felt for Angie, how much she admired her and wanted her attention. Jane was 12, on the edge of being a teenager but still just that little bit left behind, that much younger than Angie, Michael and all of Michael’s friends. Angie was granted more freedom, something that she had absolutely no problem taking, hanging around with the boys, playing pinball, occasionally stirring them up a bit with her good looks and incredible body. Angie partially inhabits a world Jane doesn’t understand yet, won’t understand for a few more years. She wants to go home and watch Elvis movies, not sure why Angie wants to do something different.

Angie’s disappearance affected her whole family deeply. Jane was devastated, Michael inconsolable. Jane and Michael’s mother felt a crippling guilt that this had happened on ‘her watch’ when she’d convinced Angie’s parents to come and let her stay for a while. Jane’s father was a cop and they believe he was probably privy to far more information than the rest of them. Jane’s feelings for Angie and the way that she seemed to draw admiration from men even coloured her relationships, including the one with her husband when she first began seeing him. For a while Jane almost tried to become Angie, dressing the way that Angie had and lightening her hair. It is undoubtedly cruel when someone so young has their life snuffed out, doesn’t have the potential to become someone, life a full life and I think Jane tried to compensate for that.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the character of Erin in the beginning, unsure of what her motivations were. They become quite clear throughout her own part of the story – Erin is seeking a justice she feels that no one cares about and she thinks that Angie’s relatives might hold the key to her getting the answers she needs. What she doesn’t expect is to find herself liking them (and perhaps vice versa too) and that maybe knowing all of the answers is going to be more difficult than she imagined. I enjoyed where this one went because I love a book that presents an interesting moral dilemma – there are two sides in this one and it would be fun to argue the debate with another person who’d read the book! There are some who would find it black and white and others who would be able to see all of the shades of grey.

The Lost Girls shows Wendy James’s true gift with exploring family dynamics and the subtle ways in which tragedy can wreak havoc, ways that may not even manifest until years after the fact. The writing is deft, the story easy to sink into and the setting is so quintessentially Australian that so much is recognisable from just about any childhood, even in a different decade. Another great story and now the countdown starts again to the next release.

8/10

Book #58 of 2014

AWWW2014

The Lost Girls is book #22 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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