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!