Ellie Mack is an average 15-year-old girl in a British upper-middle class family, the youngest of three children and a perfect child according to her mom, Laurel. But, one day, Ellie goes missing and her family falls apart. Laurel is hit especially hard, and she ends up losing her marriage and is painfully distant from her remaining son and daughter. Ten years pass by and a clue finally turns up in Ellie’s disappearance and the Mack family gets the closure they’ve needed. Or do they?
Laurel, finally knowing Ellie is truly dead and not a runaway as the police suspected, has a sort of closure and begins to slowly pull herself out of her deep depression. She becomes more aware of letting her life slip away these past ten years and, one day, by chance, meets a man in a cafe. This man is charming and fun and Laurel slowly begins to date and to live and to start making things right in her own life. This man, though, has a daughter who, at times, looks exactly like…her dead daughter, Ellie. She also finds some other oddities and parallels between her life and her new boyfriend. Things that make you go hmmmmmm…
I’ll leave you with that for the moment, but there may be semi-spoilers in some of the text ahead. I would say this book is good. Not great, but really, solidly good. Fairly early in the book, you can start to suspect what transpires. However, I was interested enough in the characters that I didn’t mind knowing how I thought it would end. I just wanted to see how it would get there. I do think that’s the author’s intent because the clues she leaves are big ones. It’s not designed to be a twisty-turny plotted book and that’s okay. Not everything needs to be. It’s still a good read and a something that keeps you interested throughout the book even as you start to put the pieces together. A few plot twists happen, but those are more related to the personal lives of the family members and not the overall whodunnit of the novel.
Things that made me go hmmmmmm about this book:
- Laurel keeps dating a dude she thinks may have some connection to her daughter’s death, no matter how vague or innocent? Not just dating, but sleeping with him, spending the night, getting closer to his children – y’all, yuck.
- When she starts to have these suspicions, she doesn’t bring anybody else in on it? She at least texts someone about where she’s going towards the end of the book, but still. You have these growing suspicions and you don’t phone a friend, your ex-husband, the police? Even in a fictional world, characters know bad things happen and Laurel knows this all too well. It didn’t jive with me.
- A little awkwardly, about half-way through the book, you start getting a POV from another character. It sounds as if it’s a letter or a journal, definitely a confession, but nothing every really comes of it except that the reader is let in on what actually happened to Ellie. It would have been nice for that to be a document that came to light at some point. As it was, it interrupted the story some for me and left a gap that needed to be filled.
- It seemed like Ellie could have overpowered her captor at some point in the story; she wasn’t tied up or restrained for the majority of her time, although she was locked in a rom (with a window). I didn’t fully buy into that. You’ve got a young, healthy girl who can’t get past someone who doesn’t seem to be more powerful than her. There needed to be more psychological oomph or an explanation of the captor’s strength/control. It made me not as sympathetic with Ellie at that part of the story – not that she deserved to be where she was, mind you. We’ve all seen those horrific and inexcusable real-life stories of young women held in captivity by a variety of means. I’m just saying that the author kind of glazed over the emotional/psychological/physical control issue as to why Ellie seemed so complacent. We also have an unreliable narrator for this portion and only a partial glimpse of Ellie’s POV, so maybe something was lost in translation.
- There are people in this book who shouldn’t be smart enough to get away with these crimes, but do. There’s very little in this book about police procedure and more about how Ellie’s disappearance affected her mom and the subsequent breakdown of the family. The police mostly seem to focus on Ellie as a runaway, so we don’t get much of a sense of how the initial investigation was handled and whether they should have picked up on clues or whether they were thorough and just couldn’t have known the full set of circumstances as sometimes happens. The guilty are not exactly criminal masterminds, but are definite creepy as hell.
- The end is satisfactory on all of the loose ends; however, you still don’t get the police -style follow up you do in some thrillers. The focus is still very much on the family, which is fine, but I would have liked a little more on the police or public reaction to the big reveal. Instead, we get a soft wrap-up and only allusions to the aftermath.
All in all, it was a good tale. I would recommend this for an “in-between books” book, a quick summer read, or something middle-of-the-road for a book club. If you’ve read it, I would love to hear your thoughts on the plot points I mentioned above! I’m including a review from Kirkus Books and an interview with author Lisa Jewell.