Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Little Mercies – Heather Gudenkauf

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction

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


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

25 thoughts on “Little Mercies – Heather Gudenkauf

  1. This sounds riveting, and you know I love the multiple viewpoint technique–but I’ve learned that I just cannot read about child abuse/neglect. It’s one of my very few deal-breakers! It does sound like a good plotline though, for readers who are able to handle this type of book.


  2. Oh, this sounds like a good ‘un, if difficult. Sometimes those harder topics take more skill, if I can put it that way. Thanks for sharing. A new-to-me-author, too.


  3. The premise gives me the shivers. I used to work with vulnerable kids and vividly remember the constant level of worry at the idea that a mistake might turn into a disaster. It gave me a lot more sympathy with parents who get it wrong by accident sometimes, as opposed to those who deliberately abused or neglected their children. The book’s not for me, I think, but I enjoyed your review as always. 🙂


    1. You are talking to a woman who left her newborn (1 week old) in a shop by mistake! I’d walked to the car, put the shopping in the boot, strapped number 1 child into her car seat and then thought ‘I’m missing something!’ and realised… so although he was rescued unharmed I could totally buy into this story. Mistakes do happen! Thank you for your kind words 🙂


      1. Urghh! What a terrifying story! I bet your ‘newborn’ will cast it up to you for his whole life too! (I say this because my sister never let my mother forget that she dropped her as a baby – fortunately my Dad caught her!)


        1. Oh yes it gets bought up along with the time I gave him mouldy bread in his sandwiches for school. I have pointed out that I’m a fantastic mother because despite the rain that day I went back and retrieved him 😉


    1. It was quite traumatic and realising how serious a mistake can turn out to be is heart-breaking. It makes you realise that parents who make mistakes can be treated the same as those who are neglectful on a different level. Scary stuff.


      1. Sorry I didn’t write more. I was probably exhausted from the day and could only manage to squeeze that out.
        You have a strong constitution if that’s the right word for realistic reading content. You are not daunted at all. I admire that.


        1. Your comment was fine 🙂 I didn’t blog at all yesterday I was so tired (and reading) I’m interested in people and have a reputation for being direct (a colleague said to me last week, you’re really caring but you don’t beat around the bush and that’s an unusual combination!) I am a realist so maybe that has something to do with it? I really don’t know….


          1. I see that as an asset. I grew up where feelings are shared in a more roundabout way and gentle guidance was given. I personally turned out to be more blunt after seeing too much “face” going on in my culture and seeing how that affected those I loved.


            1. Sometimes maybe…? We are all products of many different events and I became much stronger after having children as it was far easier to fight on their behalf than I would ever on my own. I prefer people to be straight with me so hope they follow my example 😉


            2. Yes! I’ve taught my girls to stand up for themselves ever since they were kinders. I personally became more vocal in my twenties and as I’m approaching 40, I am really cutting out the BS around me.


    1. I left my week old baby in a shop, so I totally bought into this story. Fortunately there wasn’t any harm done in my instance but mistakes do happen. This book contrasts the treatment of those who act with malice or make bad decisions against those who make an honest mistake. Interesting stuff.


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