Family, Mystery/Thriller

She’s Not There by Joy Fielding

I’ve always been a fan of Joy Fielding, ever since I first read her book Heartstopper back when I was in grade 10. Granted, I haven’t read a book by her in a while, but reading this one makes up for it!

15 years ago, Caroline Shipley was looking forward to her wedding anniversary. But the celebratory trip to Mexico with her husband and friends became a disaster when her infant daughter, Samantha, was kidnapped. Now, 15 years later, there is still no trace of Samantha. Divorced and isolated, Caroline is forced to relive the horrible event every year by reporters who won’t stop calling her. But this year, when the phone rings, Caroline hears another voice – the voice of a young girl claiming to be Samantha. Taken back into a world of heartbreak and suspicion, Caroline doesn’t know who or what to believe. But when she starts to piece things together, she finds the answers are dangerously close to home.

I’m still trying to put my thoughts together on this novel so I’m going to start off by saying the things that I liked about this novel (this is basically my way of saying I’m going to ramble):

This book is emotionally charged and it does a really good job of staying that way. It shows the ways in which this kidnapping affects not only Caroline but her older daughter, Michelle, too. And while Michelle’s character might be annoying, she is arguably accurately depicted. In fact, everyone is accurately depicted, and I love that the author took the time to make realistic characters. It made the story that much more believable and emotional.

The story flits back and forth in time, to show the events leading up to and after the kidnapping, as well as showing what is happening in the present moment with the mysterious caller. It was a nice effect and kept me intrigued with the actual mystery of the story.

However, and this is the one thing that has made me feel confused in terms of my feelings about this book, I didn’t like the actual mystery aspect. For 90% of the book, the author focuses on the emotions and the events themselves, not bothering to mention how such an act could have happened. And I was fine with that. The story was gripping enough as it is and the mystery of the identity of the caller was good enough for me! But in the last few chapters, the author decides to unveil the perpetrators of the crime. And while this was necessary, it is the one thing that I don’t think was done well. There was a lack of build-up, of investigation, and it gave the effect of just being plopped down there as an afterthought. A few more chapters that focused on the whodunit aspect would have been appreciated and would have allowed for a smoother transition. I especially did not like the cliched effect of having all of the suspects in one room and having each one be hinted at as the possible kidnapper, only to finally reveal the truth. It reminded me of something out of Hercule Poirot, and it just made the whole scene really cheesy.

Another thing that felt a bit weird to me was when the mysterious caller arrives and just integrates “so well” with the family. It was a bit cheesy and made the story fall a bit, especially when compared to the previous spot-on emotional aspects of the story.

While this novel was emotionally strong, with great characters and details, it rushed parts of the ending and gave the feeling of not being satisfactorily completed. For that reason, I would give this novel a 3.5/5.

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