Friday, December 22, 2017


Title: Bad Girls With Perfect Faces
Author: Lynn Weingarten
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 304
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Bad girls with perfect faces by Lynn Weingarten tells us of the unpredictable ways in which the sanest individuals react when they realise that their dear ones have acted in monstrous ways.

On the eve of the 17th birthday of Xavier, her best friend, Sasha decides to tell him about her feelings for him. He has just about recovered from a bout of severe depression after having been dumped by his ex-girlfriend, Ivy.

Sasha decides that tonight, she will tell him all, take a deep breath, open my mouth, and let my heart climb right out of it. In the last one month, they have shared one drunken rum-soaked kiss, and Sasha hopes they have a future together.

They go out to their regular haunts and they are having a good time when Sasha literally senses the presence of Ivy around, deep in my gut the way some animals sense an earthquake just before it comes. Ivy has come there with her best friend, Gwen, who had been best friends with Sasha, when they were in the 4th grade.

When Ivy and Xavier get together again, Sasha feels compelled to act. She knows that Xavier is as deeply entranced this time around, as he was earlier. She also knows that Ivy’s liaisons with random men will continue and that she will hurt him again.

Sasha pictures Ivy reaching in, tearing out his heart, putting it into her mouth, and eating it. She opens a fake account in the name of Jake Jones, and then begins chatting with Ivy, in the hope of collecting proof of her faithlessness. Over the course of 18 days, they text hundreds of times, flirting with each other, getting closer.

When Ivy and Jake finally agree to meet, Sasha hopes to catch Ivy red-handed. But tragedy unfolds, affecting all their lives with unforeseen and terrible consequences.

For the most part, the story is written in alternate viewpoints of Sasha and Xavier. Sasha’s is first-person, while Xavier’s is in third-person. Halfway through the book, the author introduces a mystery PoV. Is it Ivy? Or someone else?

Sasha is very mature for her age. She knows how easy it is to lose someone and how there are so many different ways for it to happen. She has a keen sense of humour. I appreciated the playful banter between Sasha and Xavier, how they ‘got’ each other.

Sasha is a strong character, and so is Ivy. Xavier, their object of affection, remains weak in contrast. His niceness is all that seems to be his strong point.

If there was anything that the four young characters had in common, it was the minimal presence of their parents in their lives. Xavier’s parents are emotionally dry, uncomfortable with expressing affection. Ivy openly rebels against her parents through her lifestyle. Sasha’s mother jet sets around the world with her latest boyfriend; she does not mention her father. Gwen’s mother is dead of cancer.

Ultimately, everyone, it seemed, was hurtling towards self-destruction. The characters lost their heads, drinking beyond limits, often losing count of reality in the process. Also, there was an unhealthy addiction to Instagram, of living life for the benefit of sharing it on the social media.

There are some beautiful lines in the book, all in Sasha’s accounts, which make you stop and ponder.

The faraway monster always looks different than the monster in front of you, in your arms, in your heart. When someone you cherish does something incomprehensible, you will find reasons to decide they are the exception. You will cling to the details; telling yourself, but this is different. But it never is.
No one thinks the people they love are monsters. Because love is the biggest liar of all.

Later she adds, We are all capable of both more and less than we ever could have imagined.

She also says, A heart too full is like a bomb. One day it will explode.

And that’s exactly what happens.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this one, and sometimes it was hard to imagine that people can actually act in such bizarre ways. But then I had to remind myself that the characters were all high-school students –- a time when people literally let their hormones do the thinking for them.

The book also skirts around issues relating to social media, sexuality and mental illness, with at least two characters questioning their own mental health.

The whole point is about how far we may go to save the ones we love, and about how we make mistakes, and then set out to rectify those mistakes, only to end up making bigger ones.

The cover image, a full lipstick with flies buzzing around it, is a reminder of how something that looks beautiful and sexually enticing can often be rotten at its core.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Book Review: THE TWIN GAME

Title: The Twin Game
Author: VJ Chambers
Publisher: Punk Rawk Books
Pages: 251
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I enjoy reading books about twins. I find them a fascinating subject. Two people with the same DNA, people who should have been one, but are two. That is why I picked up The Twin Game, and was totally pleased to see what a fantastic thriller it turned out to be.

The first chapter, acting as a Prologue, tells us about a man stalking a woman, hinting at dark things, telling us in the first person how he is planning to do her harm.

The second chapter moves to the first-person account of Hope Ross, who has just been released from a mental health care facility. She returns to the massive manor house she calls home, the one that only houses twin sister Serenity, since their parents are both dead. Returning home, she and Serenity, who hasn’t spoken to her in years, occupy opposite wings of the home.

Hope is concerned about the serial killings that have been plaguing the town for a long time, but the voices of authority, Inspector Radcliff and the family physician, Dr Gunther, both disbelieve her allegations, insisting her mental illness makes it difficult for her to think straight, fostering the belief that she is delusional. Both also insist that Serenity does not exist, that she is making her up.

Hope insists that she was assaulted by a serial killer, Neil Stillwater, who was the drama teacher when Hope was in high school.

Rhys, Hope’s childhood friend, now a film star, picks her up at the facility and moves into the manor, insisting that he is doing it to keep her safe. His presence pleases Hope. Rhys is, after all, the only person who knows Serenity, who played with both girls when they were kids.

Even as a child, Hope had been raised to never tell anyone about Serenity. She and Rhys used to play the Pretend-Serenity-does-not-exist game.

When Hope finds evidence of a deranged woman, her mother’s twin, having been hidden in the attic, and discovers rotting bodies and skeletons in the basement, she realizes that the danger is very real. But then she is accused of attempted murder, and it seems that even Rhys thinks she is crazy.

The book raises questions about whether Stillwater is to blame for the killings, and if insanity does indeed run in the family.

Hope is an unreliable narrator. Her insistence on Serenity being real leaves us feeling confused for a long time. We can’t tell whether Serenity is real or not, whether Hope is delusional, lying or imaginative.

Hope does flip flops between realities, and we don’t know whether to trust her or not. She keeps getting flashes of insights relating to things that her memory does not back her on. Maybe she’s crazy, and maybe she’s also trustworthy.

There are more than a few grammatical and proofing errors, but they don’t take away from the thrill that the book gives us.

There are literally twists and turns on every page. The pace just doesn’t falter.

I look forward to reading the author’s other books.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Book Review: DEPTH OF LIES

Title: Depth of Lies
Author: EC Diskin
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Pages: 290
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Depth of Lies is an examination of the life of a woman, post-mortem, by her best friend who refuses to believe that she would deliberately end it all.

The death of Shea Walker in a bathtub in an inn on an island far from home comes as a shock to her friends and family. No one can believe that this feisty, vivacious woman would choose to die.

Hoping to both honour and celebrate her memory, Shea’s friends, Kat, Tori, Lina, Evelyn and Dee meet at Tori’s holiday home where they once enjoyed great getaways. Only Georgia is too distraught to join them. As they swap stories about Shea, Kat, who had moved to Texas several months earlier, realises that there were many secrets and lies that swirled around Shea, and that it seems as if she hardly knew her or any of her friends.

Kat, Shea’s closest neighbour and friend of 20 years, cannot understand these secrets, relating to the state of Shea’s marriage, her cheating husband, Ryan, and Shea’s own one night stand in response. On the island, Shea had flirted with a married man, Blake, who later that night died in a boating accident.

But Kat has a secret of her own. She cannot admit to the others that Shea had called her the night before she died and that she had ignored the call. Feeling guilty, Kat feels driven to find out more about her friend, believing that Shea was in distress, yet refusing to believe that her death was anything but an accident.

The story is written in the 3rd person past tense point of view of Kat and Shea. Kat’s narrative in the present time is interspersed with flashbacks from Shea’s life, four months before her death. Besides the story of Kat’s amateurish search for the truth, we also get to see the narrative of Shea and Ryan, of how Shea gamely held on to the marriage, hoping to keep it alive while Ryan strayed.

The story follows two timelines, Kat’s from April 8, when she comes to Maple Park for Shea’s funeral up to April 14, as she seeks to find out whether her friend’s death was an accident or murder. The book opens with Shea’s death on April 1, then goes back in time to November 24 the previous year when her life seems to be crumbling, leading up to her death.

Be warned – the pace is far from breathtaking. And while the mystery of what happened to Shea remains, this novel is more about relationships and the ensuring drama than it is about the death.

This drama caused the story to feel too long drawn, with Kat having her own set of issues with husband Mack complicating her life.

The author does a great job of bringing out the camaraderie between the women. This part sounded truest for me. But then we realise, that even in a group of girlfriends who’ve shared great times, the intensity of friendships changes over time. Little by little, the simmering tensions come to the surface. It was this element that kept me reading.

Nearly everyone in the book appears to be grappling with their own ifs and buts relating to Shea’s death, wondering if there was anything they could have done to prevent her death.

As the one who moved out of Ohio, Kat is the one most perfectly suited to sift through the lies and find the truth.

While the plot was entirely plausible, it would have benefited from tighter editing. Even though Shea dies on April 1, and the mystery is resolved on the 14th, it seems way too long.

But there were things I found annoying. There were portions when the conversations felt stilted and unreal, not like the way real people talk. I also found it odd that the women were all so easily blown away whenever a good-looking man complimented them and flirted with them.

The phrase, Ryan had a tell, was totally weird.

Kat too was annoying. There were several occasions when she seemed incapable of good judgement, of keeping her mouth shut.

The title was most apt. Kat sinks in deeper into the lies, wondering if she ever knew these people, much like Shea sank deeper into the water and met her end.

(I read a Kindle edition of this book through NetGalley.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


Title: The Red House Mystery
Author: AA Milne
Publisher: Dover Publications
Pages: 156
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Who would ever have thought that AA Milne, the author who gave us the delightful Winnie the Pooh, could have written a detective story?

With all my fondness for Winnie and his friends, I was ready to like this one, even before I read the first page. What’s more, Milne wrote it in gratitude and affection for his father, who like all really nice people has a weakness for detective stories.

The Red House is almost a character in its own right, for in the very first chapter, we learn that it was taking its siesta.

Mark Ablett’s brother, Robert, sends home a letter to announce that he is coming home after having spent 15 years in Australia. Mark is none too happy to hear this.

Mark’s cousin, Matthew Cayley, who is in attendance, looks after the house and other matters. Major Rumbold, Bill Beverly, Miss Norris, Betty Calladine, Mrs John Calladine are the other guests at the house. Into this mix, arrives Anthony Gillingham, an intelligent young man, who fancies himself something of an amateur detective.

The moment Anthony arrives is the exact moment when a dead body is found in the house. At first Anthony and Bill believe that it is Robert who is dead, and that Mark has killed him and fled the scene, with or without help from Cayley.

Anthony takes it upon himself to solve the crime, using Bill as a sidekick. The two conveniently make fun of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson device, employed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which Watson asked the most pointless questions so the sleuth could shine.

Anthony asks Bill, Do-you-follow-me-Watson; that one. Are you prepared to have quite obvious things explained to you, to ask futile questions, to give me chances of scoring off you, to make brilliant discoveries of your own two or three days after I have made them myself all that kind of thing? Because it all helps.

Hamming up on Doyle’s pet device, Anthony talks in a friendly and slightly patronizing tone to Bill, which the latter doesn’t mind in the least.

The pace of the book is quite laidback, and very British. Which means, there is a lot of dressing for dinner, and elaborate teas, and games of billiards and bowls and that sort of thing, which makes us wonder how these guys could ever keep up this kind of a lifestyle.

The only time my heart popped up in my mouth was in the library scene, where Cayley enters the library just as Anthony has entered the secret passage and Bill is afraid he will pop out of the bookcase at any time, in full view of Cayley.

The book ends on a very encouraging note, with Anthony urging Bill to accept the invitation he has and to let him know if someone should drop dead.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Title: The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life
Author: Lauren Markham
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 320
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham attempts to humanize the stories of undocumented minors against the political backdrop of US President Donald Trump announcing a war on undocumented migrants.  

The author does this by highlighting the efforts of teenage twins, Ernesto and Raul Flores of El Salvador, to enter the US. She has written this book after hours of research and investigation into the lives of undocumented minors coming in from El Salvador via Mexico.

The names of the family members have been changed to protect their identity, but the struggles faced by the brothers and their family members is very real.

Most illegal immigrants come to the US in the hope of securing a better life, but for many, says the author, that means a life where they are not afraid of being killed.

That’s what it is like for Ernesto and Raul, seventeen-years-old when they make the perilous journey up North.  Their older brother, Wilber Jr, had already gone to America, because there was no future in their country. 

There are six other siblings, older and younger at home; their parents have lost four babies. Of these, the author also gives us glimpses of Ricardo, who has a drinking problem and flirts dangerously with joining the gangs, and Maricela, who becomes an abandoned single mum, and looks after the family.

Meanwhile, Ernesto and Raul plod on at school, watching as their friends join gangs and snitch on those who won’t join. Ernesto, more aggressive than his twin, wants to follow in Wilber Jr’s footsteps and build a better future for himself; Raul wants to work as a banker in another city in El Salvador.

Their dreams fall by the wayside as El Salvador succumbs to waves of violence and gangster unrest. Conditions worsen and it becomes a place where the threat of death…was just as powerful as death itself.

When Ernesto gets into trouble on account of a jealous uncle, the family borrows $7000 to send Ernesto up North, and then another $7000 for Raul, when gangsters mistake him for Ernesto and almost try to kill him. Both boys suffer and witness harrowing sights on their way, and suffer depression and nightmares even months after reaching the US.

The family believes that they will be able to pay off the debt once the boys reach the US. But that is not what happens. 

In the US, the twins get caught up in the struggle to seek documentation. They miss their court hearing, and need a lawyer to fight their case pro bono. They enroll in a school and get part-time jobs, working in shifts, but the meagre amounts they earn don’t make a dent in the mounting debt.

They face other challenges. Besides the lack of language skills, the low wages, they are also plagued by their desire to fit in, to want the lifestyle that they see others enjoying. They don’t seem capable of taking advantage of the American Dream. They keep getting caught in its trappings, wanting to spend their money on iPhones, Nike sneakers, smoking, and girlfriends. Ernesto’s teenage girlfriend gets pregnant, and gives birth to their daughter.

It is only when their father, Wilber Sr, sells off a parcel of land, their inheritance, that the debt can be wiped off, and the twins can begin to dream of a fresh beginning.

The title comes from the phrase, hermano lejano, faraway brother in Spanish. Hermano lejano is the Salvadorean term for a person who has crossed over into the US.

The narrative of the Flores twins is interspersed with the history of the resettlement of refugees, how various administrations have dealt with the issue, the amount of money involved and the corruption that prevails, the deplorable conditions that exist.

We also come to know of what those left behind in El Salvador go through. The fear of the gangs, the inability to make money to fend for themselves and their families. Theirs is a sorry lot, justifying why so many people undertake the journey El Norte.

In giving us the overall picture about the twins as well as the family back home, the author tells us of the magnitude of the problem. In giving us a deeper understanding of the situation of the twins, she helps us see that each case matters.

The author tells us about the extent of migration that has taken place in a decade – 7% of the population of El Salvador went to the US, compelled to escape the violence and instability back home. She describes the geography of the terrain that separates the US and Mexico, in the form of the Rio Grande. 

We get an idea of the hazards, physical and mental, that migrants allow themselves to be subjected to, in order to enter the US.

She does a spot of hard talk, insisting that while Trump believes that border protection is the central issue, it is important to see why people are seeking to leave. We have played a major part in creating the problem of what has become of Central America, and we must play a major part in solving it.

She adds, The United States can build a wall, dig a two-thousand-mile trench, patrol with drones and military-grade vehicles and machine guns, and put thousand more guards at the border. Desperate migrants will still find another way.

As a reader, I felt a strong sense of anger at the twins who continued to make the wrong choices, trying to enjoy the fruits of the American Dream, even before they had earned a right to the rewards. They are unable to pay off the debt, but they don’t seem overtly worked up about it.

Through the writing, the author maintained a neutral tone. There was not the faintest trace of judgement or censure on her part as she set down the facts, helping us to understand just why someone would choose to uproot themselves from their homes and countries and make the perilous journey to the Land of Opportunity that is America.

(I received a copy of The Far Away Brothers from WaterBrook Multnomah.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Title: The Goat Thief
Author: Perumal Murugan
Translator: N Kalyan Raman
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
Pages: 240
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan takes a slice of life, the thinnest sliver of one, and illuminates it, and the revelation is dazzling.

The stories inevitably turn on the protagonists. The intensity and the relentlessness with which the characters find their situations changed for the worse is totally inexorable.

In The Well, we watch with disbelief as an innocent episode of swimming in a well, along with three children, aged 8-12, becomes dangerous for a man. 

This story sets the stage for the others, and we become mentally prepared to realise that we will learn to identify with the protagonists of Perumal Murugan’s stories only to watch them suffer, often for no fault of theirs. It is a reminder about how life, and society, often stacks the odds against us.

In The Wailing of the Toilet Bowl, a newly married woman overestimates the amount of rice she must cook for the day, and the leftovers end up in a vat filled with stale rice. The question of how to get rid of it torments her. Her husband pours the contents of the vat into the toilet bowl, and so begins her irrational fear of the never-satisfied hunger pangs of the toilet bowl.

In Musical Chairs, a husband and wife become obsessed with a chair they find in their new house. By and by, the couple find themselves driven apart by their desire for the special chair. The wife then prevails upon her husband to buy her a chair of her own, but he transfers his obsession to the new chair, and it too becomes a source of friction.

In The Night the Owls Stopped Crying, Raju, a night watchman, falls in love with the ghost of a rape victim who haunts the sprawling estate that he has been hired to guard. He thinks his suit is doing well, until the living begin to pose a hindrance to his dreams.

In An Unexpected Visitor, an old woman who lives alone, vainly hoping that Death will claim her, discovers a renewed burst of energy when her granddaughter and her husband ask her to look after their six-year-old son for a few days.

In Mirror of Innocence, a two-year-old girl wakes up in the middle of the night bawling and demanding a certain something and frustrating her parents and grandmother. There can be no peace or sleep until that thing is identified, discovered and given to her. Here, the author captured very well the frustration of parents when little children throw tantrums.

In The Goat Thief, Boopathy, the eponymous thief, tries to escape with a stolen goat under the cover of darkness. His efforts fail, and he loses the goat. When he tries to make a getaway, he finds himself chased by the villagers. Feeling completely beleaguered, he rushes madly into a coconut grove, only to find himself dangerously trapped.

In the starkly named Shit, we come to know of the narrator and his friends, all bachelors, residing in a large rented house. They live a good life, drinking when they want to. The star attraction of their drinking episodes is an attractive plastic tumbler, that one of them gets to drink from, in turns, while the others make do with steel tumblers. The house they live is enveloped in a dirty stench, caused by a rupture in the pipe  leading from the toilet to the septic tank. To repair the problem, the friends must pay a sweeper Rs 500, an amount that seems exorbitant, until the narrator, and we, realise the enormity of the sweeper’s efforts.

The story consists of dual stories about the tumbler and the shit, which go on parallelly, leaving us confused about how they could belong in the same story, until the author gets them to converge in a spectacular manner.

In Sanctuary, the narrator, a youth becomes so engrossed in the games he plays with little boys in a well, that he actually regresses to a child himself.

Muthu Pattar is The Man Who Could Not Sleep. The insomnia is a strange affliction for him, a hardworking old man who has always rested well after hard labour. The cause of the insomnia is a sudden spurt of jealousy he feels, and he resolves his problem in the only way he knows how.

The heroes and heroines of Murugan’s world are threatened in their own stories. The character swimming in the well, the newly married housewife all alone at home, they all find themselves consumed by their circumstances. 

And yet, even as they find themselves alone, one can sense their fortunes being guided by Murugan, who feels deeply for them in their predicament.

Most of the characters, both the leading ones as well as the secondary characters, are unnamed. The exceptions are Raju, the night watchman, Boopathy, the goat thief, and Muthu Pattar, the old man who cannot sleep. Even Paati and Kunju, the great-grandmother and the child, are a form of address and a nickname respectively.

The long paragraphs, most of which are over-a-page in size, invite us to immerse ourselves in the story. Like the protagonist in The Well, we jump in with jolly abandon only to find that it is not so easy to get out of it, to extricate ourselves from the clutches of the little tyrants. The stories, like the well, claim us.

There is a sentence in the first story, The Well, Like a ripe coconut detaching itself from a bunch and dropping to the ground, which describes how the protagonist jumps into the well, while the children are still arguing over who will be the first to disturb the well.

The significance of Murugan’s stories fall into our consciousness with exactly the same precision and delicacy.

(I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of this review from Juggernaut.)

Book Review: BONFIRE

Title: Bonfire
Author: Krysten Ritter
Publisher: Hutchinson
Pages: 288
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Reading this book, it really helped that I had no idea who Krysten Ritter was. I’m not much of a TV viewer (the Husband and kids have carved out their TV time, which doesn’t leave any for me).

I found Bonfire rather slow to begin with. This bonfire took a while to get crackling, but by the time it was roaring, I found myself settling in, really enjoying myself.

Abby Williams returns to her hometown, Barrens, after 10 years. An environmental lawyer in Chicago, she returns home to build a case against Optimal Plastics, the firm that employs almost everyone in town and is at the heart of its economy. The activities of the firm’s factories are polluting the drinking water at the reservoir, and she seems to have a solid case, if only Optimal didn’t scare off the witnesses.

Abby hopes to solve the case and head back to Chicago, but it won’t be easy. Before long, she finds herself pulled into a scandal that affected girls when she was in high school. Her one-time best friend, Kaycee, and her clique, who used to bully Abby relentlessly, had suffered an illness back then, with terrible symptoms. That case had hit the headlines until the girls revealed that they were faking it.

Now Abby wonders if Kaycee had really been faking it. If her symptoms weren’t in fact a cry for help. If they weren’t related to a seedy game, involving dirty pictures and blackmail, that afflicted young girls back then.

As she ponders over the past, her present seems just as complicated. Her dad, who she’s spent 10 years hating, is suffering from Alzheimer’s’ Disease, and Abby is unable to confront him. Misha, who used to bully her, is now the principal of the school, and seems keen to befriend her.

Also, Brent, Kaycee’s high school boyfriend, now a high-powered Optimal man, seems intent on wooing her again. But Abby finds herself drawn to Dave Condor, the single father and one-time school dropout who runs a local pub.

Abby suspects that Optimal is to blame somehow, that the environmental problems are linked with what is happening with the teens, with what happened to Kaycee a decade ago. But it won’t be easy to discover what they have done wrong and how. In Barrens, you can’t just peel away the present from the past. It’s like trying to get gum out of your hair: the more you try to separate it, the more strands get caught up.

There is a bigger, deeper conspiracy afoot. But what is it? Figuring out the answer will be like the hard stun of a wave you’ve been watching get closer.

The book is written in the first person present tense point of view of Abby. The narrative helps us see the small-town world of Barrens, where everyone knows each other, and only a few dare escape. The very name inspired visions of a dead-end where nothing got better. No wonder most people were so unwilling to offend Optimal.

The book started slow, but I slowly warmed up to it. The plot was well crafted, meticulously drawing the past into the present, tying up loose ends, cleverly and sensitively.

At first it seemed to be all about environmental violations, but then there were tensions, emotional entanglements, and deceit that crept in and the plot got thicker.

There is something about Abby that makes her want to take dangerous decisions, ignore her gut feel, and choose the dangerous option. I always want the things that hurt most.

She is a conflicted person. She ran away from Barrens yet ended up returning, doing the exact opposite of what she wanted to do. Time isn’t a line, but a corkscrew, and the harder I’ve pushed, the more I’ve drilled back into the past.

As a person she seems weak, but as a lawyer, she is skilled, tenacious. She digs in, reading up on old news, about investigations and complaints, payoffs and bribes. If you throw a dart enough times, eventually you’ll hit the bull’s-eye.

She realizes that a lot of the things she took for granted about Barrens and the people who drove her away aren’t true. Everything I learn makes the picture clearer, but also bigger — like climbing out of a ditch only to find myself at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

In time, I began to like Abby, for her perceptiveness, for the fact that she was always an outsider. On the fringe of things, bullied, unloved even at home, by a father who couldn’t see beyond his religion, and a mother who couldn’t because she was dying.

It’s the richness of the prose that will stay with me. Sample this:

The room slows its turning, like a merry-go-round reaching the end of its cycle.

Loneliness turns from an ache to a hard punch. I think of all those rose-cheeked children, all those families at their dining room tables making wish lists: snowglobes of normalcy.

I know that kind of laughter: like the hooting of an owl sighting a mouse. Sharp. Predatory.

Like all prey everywhere, he knows when there’s danger in the air.

About Kaycee: The kind of girl you could only get close to the way you have to creep sideways toward a wild animal, not making eye contact, so it won’t run away.

About herself: I’m a fish, lashing out in its last moments still tethered to a hook.

In fact, each of the chapters or scenes were ended in a manner that forced the reader into contemplation of a mood or a phrase. I liked that.

Nor does the author feel compelled to wave a magic wand and make everything well for Abby. The past is just a story we tell. And all stories depend on the ending. And endings are what we make of them.

There is no happy-ever-after for Abby, but there is a reconciliation, an understanding, a sense of peace. That’s the funny thing about home: you’ve always arrived just as soon as you stop checking the compass.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).


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