I had some mixed feelings about this book. It kept me thoroughly engaged while I was reading it, but a few different things made me uncomfortable during the story, and I found the ending to be unsatisfactory. In the end, I think it has to go as a 3/5. I don’t particularly recommend it, and it’s the sort of book that made me feel that while I wouldn’t avoid Chamberlain’s books in the future, I’m not anxious to seek them out, either.
The story mostly centers around Riley, aged 25, whose father has just passed away. Riley has returned home to go through his house (her mother passed away just after her senior year of high school) and get it ready to sell. Riley loved her father and had a good relationship with him, so she’s quite devastated by his sudden death, and that’s amplified by the way that she feels that she is all alone in the world – her older sister committed suicide when Riley was only two, and Riley’s older brother, Danny, suffers from severe PSTD that leaves him unreliable and unpredictable. He also harbors deep resentment towards their parents (which Riley doesn’t understand) and is completely disinterested in cleaning out the house or reliving memories of any kind.
As the tale unwinds, Riley begins to discover that her dad was actually keeping quite a few secrets, including a major one about her sister. At this point, the story also begins to give us Lisa’s story from twenty years earlier.
This is a well-written and engaging narrative. Riley uses the first person for her sections, past tense. She is likable and kind and very lonely. Lisa’s section are in third person, but that doesn’t prevent her from being a very relatable character. I was really hooked into this story from the very beginning.
However, there were several things that gave me unease. One of the biggest is when Lisa meets Celia. After spending the evening together, Celia stays the night (romantically) – despite the fact that they had only met that day AND until she met Celia, Lisa didn’t realize she was gay. It seemed kind of ridiculous and unhealthy for Lisa to immediately get in bed with someone on such short acquaintance, especially when she hasn’t actually sorted through her sexual orientation?? Of course it all works out and they stay together forever because that’s what always happens when you hop in bed with someone you’ve only known about eight hours. This situation became even more disturbing when more details about Lisa’s childhood were revealed.
I was also a smidge offended by the fact that, of course, the traditional, conservative church was the home of a bunch of hypocritical self-centered people who “push away” people going through a crisis; while the church that is “open and affirming” to gay people are the ones who are so supportive and loving to everyone, no matter what! I’m sorry, but believing that homosexuality isn’t Scriptural doesn’t automatically mean that I hate gay people or that I’m unwilling to help out people who are going through a dark time in their life. This wasn’t a huge part of this book by any means, but it was a completely unnecessary dig.
It also seemed really weird to me that part of Riley’s back story was that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years – because he had never divorced his wife?!?!? That seemed unnecessarily wrong, and it honestly changed my perspective of who Riley was as a person. Like wow, she’s just been an adulterer for two years?? That seems… disturbing?
The rest of my angst I’ll put below the cut as they involve spoilers. This wasn’t a terrible book by any means. I really was very engaged with the story and anxious to find out how it ended. But I felt like justice was not served by the conclusion and it left me feeling rather angry, this concept that this person “deserves” a good life, rather than deserving what they earned through their actions. So yes, a 3/5. And for a more positive review, be sure to check out Carol’s thoughts, which first led me to this book!
Okay, spoilers abound –
Lisa is a musical genius who has been playing the violin her entire life. When she’s seventeen, she’s found in her living room holding the gun that just killed the man who has been teaching her violin her entire life. Her father, at the time a US Marshall, helps Lisa fake her death and escape to a new life. However, it means she can never, never, never contact her family. Ever. For any reason. At all.
But just in case, he has a special PO box set up under a false name where she can reach him.
Things that bothered me:
- Lisa’s parents legit messed with Danny’s head. He’s six when all this goes down, but they move to a new town and start a new life, and part of that is telling Danny and Riley that Lisa killed herself because she was depressed – no mention of the possible murderess bit. So even though Danny remembers that stuff, they keep telling him that it’s just his imagination. Then they won’t let him get counseling when he starts having behavioral issues in high school, because he might ‘reveal’ the past, and then their new town will know all about their past life. What!? And when Riley finds all this out, she feels really bad for him but… kind of acts like it wasn’t that big of a deal?? Danny’s life was legitimately ruined, not by Lisa’s actions (although he blames her), but by his sicko parents who thought their family’s reputation was more important than his mental health. And I never felt like that was really addressed.
- Eventually, after time goes by, Lisa is able to contact her dad a little more often, but he still never bothers telling his wife that Lisa is actually alive. I can understand not doing this right away, but years go by and she’s hugely depressed and also has all these mental health problems, but he doesn’t bother telling her the truth until about 48 hours before she dies from cancer. Also sick.
- Throughout, Riley has all these run-ins with the other guy her dad had help Lisa escape. This guy hates Lisa and is convinced she is a murderer, but he helped because he owed Riley’s dad big time because the guy did something stupid and should have lost his job, but Riley’s dad covered up for him. But then he blackmails Riley’s dad the rest of his life, and tried to blackmail Riley. In the end, it’s like they aren’t that big of a problem – even though Riley kind of doublecrossed and lied to them. But it’s never addressed. Like apparently they’re just never going to go to the authorities with their knowledge even though Riley treated them badly and now they aren’t getting money any more…????
- Once Danny finds out Lisa is still alive, he’s determined to find her and have her brought to justice. It’s for revenge, because he feels like she ruined their family, but it’s also because he believes that she is a murderer. And guess what? SHE IS. She killed this guy! And he totally deserved it (I had guessed literally all of the details of this situation several chapters earlier – he molested her throughout childhood; raped her when she was 15; Riley is her natural daughter; she killed the guy because he wanted Riley back; etc.) BUT, like Danny says – “The fact that the guy was a bastard isn’t the issue. He was still a human being and she slaughtered him.” YES YES YES! But actually no, because Lisa literally gets away with everything. Danny agrees not to turn her in, because he loves Riley, so Lisa just gets away with the whole thing after all.
- Which brings us to the final problem: Nothing is actually resolved. Lisa is still a fugitive. (And as an aside, does starting a band really sound like a great idea for a fugitive?! Hello??) At any moment her whole entire life could be torn apart. (So yes, it seems a little selfish on her part to have children who are probably going to suffer the consequences of all this someday.) So I guess I’m just supposed to feel happy because Riley found her real mom and now she has some family again? But I didn’t feel happy; I felt annoyed that Lisa had murdered someone and not just gotten away with it, but gone on to find life, love, happiness, satisfaction, etc. I was TOTALLY on Danny’s side with this whole thing. Lisa ruined their lives (aided by her sick parents who forced their son to think he was crazy his entire life and then shipped him off to Iraq), built an entirely new and super awesome happy life, and then expects everyone to just forgive her and be super happy for her – which Riley IS.
A decent story all in all, but one that, to me, seemed to have a few too many holes. I was left feeling like Lisa’s entire life was going to fall apart within the next couple of years, and I honestly didn’t feel bad about that.