Ellen, happily married to Adam, mother to three children and a demanding working life as a Social Worker. We first meet Ellen on one of those hectic mornings that any parent will recognise, and they leave the house to their appointments without time for a coherent conversation. Ellen drives to one of her families straight into a disaster, finding the police are in attendance when she turns up. Ellen is doing her job and deeply concerned about the family so it isn’t until she hears a commotion that her life comes falling down around her ears. Ellen had left baby Avery in her car in the heat and someone is giving her CPR.
Meanwhile Jenny Briand aged just ten is in the middle of more upheaval, her father has lost another job and they are on the move. It is time for Jenny to gather her meagre possessions together, pack her backpack and set on to an unknown town where a promise of work awaits her father. Jenny has lived with her father for six years all she knows is her mother ran away with her boyfriend and Jenny was in foster care until her father claimed her.
This is a heart-rending tale told in the first person by Ellen and alternatively by Jenny in the third person. A story concentrating on abused, neglected and even dead children is never going to be light-hearted, but Heather Gudenkauf manages to balance this with some truly kind characters, in particular Maudene, who meets Jenny in a pancake shop, taking care of her when she falls ill and Joe a kindly policeman who is friends with Adam and Ellen. The well-drawn characters made me care about all the characters, not just the two main protagonists and I was eager to know what would happen to Ellen? Would Adam be able to forgive her? Why was Jenny living with her father and where was her mother? Even the children are well-formed rather than caricatures behaving in an entirely natural way to the disruption that Ellen’s mistake has bought raining down on their lives.
Alongside a great premise, a well-executed storyline and rounded characters this book raises lots of questions. There is the, sometimes none too subtle, reflections of Ellen when she realises that parents she charges with neglect and child endangerment are having to be investigated the way she is. Being subjected to the same conditions that she is and feeling the embarrassment of being judged by others the way that others are now judging her.
As in her previous novels, The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and One Breath Away, Heather Gudenkauf handles the multiple viewpoints perfectly allowing the reader to get a peek behind the scenes of the action, adding to the pace of the plot rather than making it stutter along.
I’d like to thank the publishers Harlequin Mira for letting me have a copy of this book for review purposes ahead of the publication date of 24 June 2014