This book, as advertised, is a psych-thriller about a woman who takes in a homeless teenager and a baby. It doesn’t have as many twists and turns as you might hope for, but then, it’s not as dark as you might fear either.
Heidi is a relentless do-gooder who sees Willow (the teenager) on the streets and is instantly touched by the desire to help her. She manages to tame Willow with food, like a stray cat, and brings her home to live in their cramped-but-expensive Chicago condo. She wants to help Willow without scaring her away, but she’s also anxious about her own marriage, because her husband Chris spends a lot of time on business trips with an attractive femme fatale co-worker.
Willow’s story starts with her in jail, telling her story to a counselor who is probably the least-competent counselor in history. I mean, seriously, the counselor was so over-the-top wicked that she felt like was an extra on a children’s cartoon. Willow/Claire tells the story of how her parents died, and how she went into a foster home, and eventually the story spills out of why she’s wearing an orange jumpsuit and who, exactly, got murdered.
Some of the things, the author did very well. Heidi’s do-gooder personality seems fascinating and yet plausible. Zoe, the sullen teen, seems like a stereotype, but given how many people assume all teenagers are monsters, there must be enough truth to it to resonate. I even liked Chris, the money-hungry workaholic who nevertheless caves to his wife all the time. Willow is mostly just a victim, a human street cat, wide-eyed and feral, fearful and wild.
I was hoping the story would have some bizarre twist at the end, but it seemed like it pulled back from the darkness it hinted at from the first page. (view spoiler)[ For example, the ending is pretty much a happy ending. I was expecting something Dickens, with hacked apart women and babies drowned in spittoons or something. Heidi’s progression seemed false, and the true fate of the ring felt unbelievably out of character. I didn’t believe that Willow stole it, but that Heidi would throw it away and then surpress the memory just felt implausible. (hide spoiler)]
The language also detracted me. Kubica likes metaphors, but some of them fell flat. For example, a sleeping baby is described as sleeping peacefully “like a newborn baby.” I don’t have the pet peeve most authors do about saying “eyes” when they mean “gaze” but at one point someone’s eyes bounce up and down on someone’s chest to hips, swinging back and forth like pendulums, and I couldn’t help but imagine popped-out eyeballs literally dangling from their optic nerves.
Unusual words were inserted in bizarre ways that didn’t quite fit, as though the author has an over-fondness for her thesaurus. For example, “the touch was not calm, not pacific.” I thought perhaps that this was supposed to be some great character-building trait of Heidi’s, since she’s a literacy teacher, but all the characters had odd word choices, strung together with a lot of synonyms, as though the book were a vehicle for vocabulary enrichment.
The best and the worst thing about this book is that it promises a dark and twisted story but doesn’t twist much and ends up happier than I would have expected. It had great promise, but it’s resolved in a way that felt too neat, and also a little too easy.