I worship the paper that Dorothy Koomson writes on.
That’s almost all I want to say, but I would be doing her, and you the reader, a disservice by not expanding just a little bit. But trust me when I tell you, I adore every work that Koomson writes, and if you take nothing from this, then please go and read one of her books. Make sure you have a strong disposition though – the content of the stories is traumatic.
Cece, new to town with her distant husband, teenage daughter and twin boys, enrols her youngest two children in a school where a brutal attack has just taken place. Yvonne, the popular mother hen of the playground, was severely beaten and lies in a coma. Cece befriends Hazel, Maxie and Anaya without realising that Yvonne’s three closest friends are also suspects in the investigation. Not only that, but they all have secrets of their own to keep – secrets that many people would kill for.
I truly believe that Koomson is one of the most gifted writers of our time. As I said when reviewing When I was Invisible, the topics she writes on are not easy to stomach. It was interesting in this novel that the focus was less on the trauma of childhood, although it was explored through Anaya a little, but rather the difficulties that come with adulthood.
Spoilers (seriously, don’t read until you’ve read the book!)
Maxie kidnapped her son, a child she had as a surrogate who she rescued from the narcissistic home he would have grown up in. Trapped in a loveless marriage subsumed by guilt, her secret leads her to be willing to kill to protect her son. It is only chance, really, that prevents her from murdering Yvonne. The exploration of what it means to be a mother, even one who has handed over responsibility of her children, is harrowing and heart breaking. I was relieved that Maxie and Ed were able to survive the turbulence and find their kernel of love in the end.
Anaya, manipulated at sixteen into taking pornographic pictures after being drugged, and being black mailed by those pictures years later, takes us on a journey of self doubt and loathing. Koomson is not overly sensitive in her exploration of Sanjay and his mother, and her cultural stereotypes read a little cold when compared with the depth and thought in the rest of the novel, but Anaya is Koomson’s stock character – a warning of what happens when children are not brought up to know how to protect themselves.
Hazel, abused and broken down by her ex-husband, Walter, brings a man with a horrible secret into her house. Her desperation for love, and the brokenness of her spirit after years of abuse, mean that his secret (being on the sexual offenders register) does not deter her from welcoming him into her home. However, his secret is a lie, used to manipulate Hazel so that she doesn’t notice the fraud that he is perpetrating in her name. Domestic abuse is a hidden crime that we are so often unaware of, and I felt that Koomson’s exploration of life after that abusive relationship was well used and sensitively explored. Hazel is potentially the strongest character in the novel, able to love again in spite of her hurt, and she overcomes a lot to stand and smile and be grateful to Cece at the end of the novel. I liked Hazel a lot, and felt for her strongly.
And of course we can’t get away without thinking about the ending…
I read the last page
It’s a bad habit. But I knew that Cece’s friends didn’t attack Yvonne. But I didn’t know who did! So whilst I was certain throughout that the group were innocent, I had NO idea who it was until the very last moment – literally until Cece smelled the perfume and put two and two together! I’m not going to tell you whodunnit. It was a valid and interesting surprise. I was a little disappointed by the backstory – it simply wasn’t as well crafted or told as everything else – but it’s rare that I’m surprised so I’m glad that it happened as it did.
Read Koomson. Read this, fall in love with her, and read more! I cannot recommend it strongly enough!