Hello, people of the internet!
I may have slightly spoiled my opinion about this book in my earlier posts, saying that it wasn’t a good start. The only thing that was keeping me reading this book was the mystery – what did happen to Naomi, the missing fifteen-year-old girl?
So, I have recently finished the book.
Warning: major spoiler alert! I normally wouldn’t mention huge spoilers in my reviews, but it is something I want to discuss in detail because it affected my whole reading experience.
Author: Jane Shemilt
Publication date: 28th August 2014
The night of the disappearance.
She used to tell me everything.
They have a picture. It’ll help.
But it doesn’t show the way her hair shines so brightly it looks like sheets of gold.
She smells very faintly of lemons.
She bites her nails.
She never cries.
She loves autumn, I wanted to tell them. She collects leaves, like a child does. She is just a child.
One year later.
Naomi is still missing. Jenny is a mother on the brink of obsession. The Malcolm family is in pieces.
Is finding the truth about Naomi the only way to put them together?
Or is the truth the thing that will finally tear them apart?
Where do I begin? I want to be constructive with my criticism as I understand that writing stories can be a personal experience, but I also want to be honest. And honestly? I had quite a few problems with this book.
The biggest problem is that it is very difficult to connect with any of these characters. Jenny, the mother, is self-absorbed and only speaks to her children when it suits her. Ted, the father, is just as selfish. The children (Ed, Theo and Naomi) are just as distant to the reader as their parents, so it’s hard to fully understand their resentment to their mother – there’s also the fact that they are not developed enough. Ed is probably the most developed of the three, but there isn’t enough of positive characteristics to connect with. Theo, Ed’s twin, is rarely talked about, other than to make Ed jealous as Theo can do no wrong. Lastly, the fact that Naomi kept a lot of secrets is no surprise (I will talk more about her later on). Come to think of it, I found it incredibly annoying that the children only resented their mother because she works a lot as a GP and doesn’t bond with them. Of course, I can understand that, but they don’t even mention as much resentment towards their equally busy father, who is also a doctor. I don’t know if this is something Jane Shemilt intended, but the fact that Jenny got most of the hate, despite Ted being just as selfish and distant as she, was incredibly frustrating to read.
However, I can say this. The book is entirely written in Jenny’s first person narration. So the fact that Theo’s negative traits aren’t mentioned adds to Ed’s belief that he is the favourite. The emphasis on her children’s resentment towards her and not their father can imply that this is what Jenny is particularly feeling guilty about – maybe the children do resent their father, but Jenny doesn’t see this. Also, her belief that she knows her teenage children well definitely shows in the narration, so I will give credit when it’s due – Jane Shemilt knows how to write flawed characters and their narration. But did I connect with Jenny? No, I really honestly didn’t. Of course, I felt miserable when Jenny is struggling to cope with her daughter’s disappearance, but her lack of consideration towards her children and even her husband makes it very hard to sympathise with her.
But that doesn’t mean she is completely horrible, which leads on to the ending. I have heard that other readers really enjoyed the ending and thought it was tense, but I thought it was rushed. A gypsy community is added to the story during the last 70 pages, where it turns out a pregnant Naomi – whose friend at school is potentially the baby’s father – has run away to. The police say they are going to arrest the man she ran away with when, not even joking, a few sentences later, it jumps toward to when they have already been there and say Naomi has been dead for months. Okay, so that felt rushed and was anti-climactic, especially since the reader is only being told what has happened, rather than being shown. So that happened, when a few pages later, it turns out Naomi is alive all along with a baby. And Naomi completely ignores her mother, who has driven all the way to Wales to find her and the baby’s body. I was so angry at this ending, not only because it was rushed and too ambiguous, but I completely hate Naomi’s character. Yes, her parents and siblings have been distant, but it doesn’t warrant her making them, along with her brothers, her friends and her baby’s potential father, believe she’s dead. That is just so selfish! And Jenny just lets her go?!? All she does is mention that Naomi’s new name, Carys, means “love” in Welsh. Yes, she thinks her daughter’s happy now, but after all of the build-up towards Jenny finally realising her mistakes, she doesn’t even follow to explain and repent? I can’t believe that. I have tried to understand this ending, but I end up getting angrier. If I connected with Naomi’s character more and understood why she ran away in the first place from her perspective to warrant this mess, then I wouldn’t have been so angry. But, I hardly know anything about her!
Another problem I had with this book is its tone. Before I explain, I want to say that this is my personal preference when it comes to reading and so isn’t Jane Shemilt’s fault, but it’s too constantly miserable. Due to its subject matter, I understood from the beginning that it would be, and it is written in a powerful way in terms of portraying a mother who is living every good parent’s nightmare. But it’s the constant misery that’s a problem for me. Because it’s constantly miserable, then that’s all I will expect from the book and therefore won’t be expecting anything else. That made the book predictable to me. Take, for example, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. The Lovely Bones is about a fourteen-year-old girl who is raped and murdered and she watches her family cope with her death from her personal heaven. It is very sad, but there are other moments that aren’t sad. There are witty, happy and uplifting moments too, so the reader doesn’t know if the next thing that will happen in the plot will be sad or happy. That’s why it’s an emotional rollercoaster and has more of an impact on me. With Daughter, its constant misery made it predictable, in terms of emotions that is. I can’t say if this will be a problem for other readers, but for me, it ruined the reading experience. Again, if I connected with the characters more, then it’s huge emphasis on misery wouldn’t have been a problem because I would have felt sorry for them and wanted them to be happy.
I’m sorry that I rambled on a bit, but that is honestly how I feel about this book. It’s a shame because the portrayal of the Malcolm family, whose bonds with one another were already tenuous, breaking apart because of a disappearance is heart-breaking and is very well written. If anything, it’s a cautionary tale about what can happen when parents don’t make an effort to make time for their teenage children and how they don’t always knows what their children get up to.
I know other people really enjoyed this book, so it’s awful that I’m not one of them. However, with that being said, this isn’t a book for me. I will give this 2 stars out of 5. Despite it being very well written in places, the problems I had were too distracting and frustrating for me. I recommend you read other reviews of this book, then decide for yourself if this is a book for you.
Thank you for reading!