This was an intriguing premise and could raise some thought-provoking ethical questions on the right thing to do when you see a child being abused, and the relative love and rights of biological/non-biological parents. Rea Frey’s two narrators, the unattractive, highly stressed, non-maternal mother Amy, and the kidnapping professional thirty-something Sarah, are portrayed with some depth and perception. Neither is maybe fully realized although it is a brave attempt.
Amy is too wholly unattractive: plain, fat, terrible skin, horrible gas and bowel problems, hate-filled and angry toward her 5 year old daughter.
Sarah’s behavior is short-sighted and dim, probably not really in character with a highly successful businesswoman. It could be a lesson in how not to be a fugitive, which would run something like this: have no longterm plan, let alone a realistic one. Stay in your ex’s house and then when he gives you forty eight hours before he turns you in, go for picnics and play by the lake until the 47th hour, then be surprised when the cops turn up a few minutes early. Alter your appearance after you’ve been recognized a few times. Sell and buy your car legally to leave a clear paper trail.
Luckily the police have forgotten basic procedure, such as identifying the owner of a suspect vehicle, or even obtaining the name and vehicle details of an identified suspect from an informant, so Sarah miraculously gets away with it and keeps running.
Despite this nonsense, I did quite enjoy the story, but it was slow, repetitive and fluffy in parts, with Sarah rehashing stuff a lot: describing the little girl Emma’s appearance and their twenty-seventh visit to the playground, and her fraught relationship with her own mother. She murmurs a hundred times about how beautiful Emma is, how she’d love to be a family, how she dreams of living with Emma like this is a summer haze… without once coming up with a practical strategy for making this or any other future happen.
The novel is told through segments: before, during, and after, and through two pov, which I didn’t mind but suspect is a device to make a very simple linear tale more interesting.
The ending? Nice in a fairy tale sort of way: Amy is happy to let Emma go, Sarah gets verbal permission over the phone to keep her – but real world? Birth certificates, medical records, not to mention the police search and Amber Alert: how on earth could this have been managed? The book glosses over this, for very good reason: there is no reasonable explanation. Plus wishy-washy biological dad’s rights are conveniently invisible.
I’ve said it before and this is something that bugs me: there seems to be a double standard of realism, accuracy and authenticity when it comes to matters of police and law in fiction. Crime thrillers aimed at least in part at men, have to be spot on. Women’s fiction, on the other hand, often doesn’t even attempt real-world probability. Is that because publishers and authors think women readers are less well-versed in police and legal procedure? I don’t know, but I find it disrespectful of the female readership.
I did wonder, too, why did Emma had to be beautiful, while her mother was plain? Suppose it had been the other way round? Would Sarah’s emotions have been so readily engaged by a plain and pudgy child with eczema? Her misery could have been easily as evident and no less painful than a pretty child’s. And unhappy children often are obese: they comfort eat, and it’s easy for parents to shut them up with junk food.
But despite these caveats – I am sure lovers of Jodi Picoult will enjoy this story. It’s rich book club material, is basically well-written, raises some interesting issues, and has a good heart.