Release Date: September 4, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
Ava is just trying to live a normal teenage life. She goes to swim practice with her three best friends, spends time at parties, and hangs out with her boyfriend, Courtney. Ava has a secret though. She is engaged in an online relationship with an older man she has never met. Whenever she gets the chance to sneak away from her friends, she is messaging him, and praying for the day when they will finally get to be together. Ava’s mom, Lisa, is very protective of her daughter, overbearing, in Ava’s opinion. Lisa constantly texts to check up on her daughter, and is always handing off money to her, as if trying to overcompensate for knowing she is being annoying. When she’s alone, Lisa succumbs to flashbacks and nightmares about a little boy named Daniel who is no longer alive. As the story delves further into the lives of the mother-daughter duo, we see a picture of a normal family unit emerging. Lisa has a successful career, and a best friend named Marilyn, she’s developing feelings for one of her clients, Simon, and considering going out with him. The everyday details of their lives were interesting enough to keep me glued to the pages, and, as the flashbacks to Daniel became more frequent, I knew there was a big twist coming. And boy was there ever. In fact, ‘twisted,’ is exactly the word I would use to describe this plot.
[MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
After Ava saves a little boy from drowning, and she and her mom are featured in several newspapers, Lisa’s true identity is leaked. Her name is actually Charlotte, better known as the child killer. She was found guilty for the murder of her two year old brother, Daniel, at age eleven, and once she was released from her sentence, was given a new identity in order to start fresh. Of course, once she is identified, neither she nor Ava are safe as who they are. They are forced to change their appearance, and assume new identities. Ava is unwilling to fully part from her past, mainly because, she had plans to meet the man she’s been speaking with on Facebook. Unbeknownst to her mother, Ava slips away in the night to do just that.
The second half of the book is a wild mixture of present and past. Charlotte escapes in a desperate attempt to find her daughter, and is ultimately able to convince Marilyn and Simon to help her. The flashbacks to Lisa’s childhood are heartbreaking and horrifying. Her mother pays little attention to Charlotte, doting upon Daniel instead, and her mother’s boyfriend Toby is abusive. Eventually, they go so far as to use Charlotte’s body to make a profit for the family. The only person Charlotte has to rely on is Katie, her best friend. She and Katie are full of angst and anger, and both detest their families. They spend their days drinking and taking pills, and planning to run away together. Despite the paralleled evil that seems to run within both of them, Katie’s family is respected and well off, and when Daniel’s death is discovered, she gets away unscathed, despite the reader’s suspicion that she was involved. As the reader, we are unsure until the very end if she was indeed involved in this at all.
In present day, Charlotte is convinced that Katie has somehow infiltrated her and Ava’s life by masquerading as someone they know and trust, and has thus been able to lure Ava away. The ending of the story saw these many loose ends tied up as Charlotte pieces together what has happened, and some additional insight is added from the chapters narrated by “Her.”
I enjoyed the slow beginning half of this book just as much as the crazy, twisty second half, which speaks to the quality of Pinborough’s writing. Some of the layers of the ending seemed a little farfetched to me (I was dubious of the double identity with Katie) but for the most part, this book was fantastic, if not much, much darker than I initially anticipated. Pictured alongside this book are a batch of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (which, in my opinion, are very under-appreciated, and delicious). Keep in mind that this recipe does recommend chilling the dough before baking, so the overall process takes some time!