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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Review of WHISTLE IN THE DARK by Emma Healey (New Release)

4 Stars 
I loved Healey’s first novel, Elizabeth is Missing (, so I jumped at the chance to read her second one.  I was not disappointed.

Lana Maddox, fifteen, goes missing for four days.  When found, largely unharmed, she claims not to remember what happened.  Jen, Lana’s mother, is desperate to find out where her daughter had been and takes increasingly desperate measures to get to the truth. 

The focus of the book is a difficult mother-daughter relationship.  Lana and Jen had not communicated well before Lana’s disappearance.  Worried about what may have happened to Lana, Jen is desperate to make a connection with her daughter, especially since Lana suffers from depression and has engaged in self-harming activities and even made a suicide attempt in the past.  Jen questions Lana constantly but as her daughter continues to shut her out, Jen takes to stalking her, trolling her social media accounts, listening to private conversations, and questioning her friends.  None of these actions, of course, are appreciated by Lana so their relationship becomes even more emotionally fraught.

Characterization is a definite strength.  Both Lana and Jen are realistic, flawed characters.  Lana is a typical teenager who both loves and hates her mother.  At times she shows outright contempt for Jen:  “’You’re always walking into people.  Get some spatial awareness.’” and “’You look ridiculous.’” and “’Can you not breathe like that, though?  It’s superdistracting.’”  Meg, Lana’s older sister, claims Lana manipulates her mother and objects to “’the way she affects your mood, the way she has you tiptoeing around.’”  At other times, Lana shows consideration for her mother; when Jen worries about looking old, Lana says, “’You never look like you can’t apply your make-up properly . . .  And you don’t have lines around your mouth.’”

Jen loves her daughter and wants to understand and help her daughter.  She just doesn’t know how to get Lana to open up. It is so irritating to her that Lana talks to the world through her social media accounts but won’t talk to her mother.   Jen’s clumsy efforts only result in further alienating Lana.  Jen worries so much that her job performance is affected and she is unable to fully enjoy Meg’s wonderful news.  The relentless stress of not knowing what happened to Lana causes Jen to become paranoid.  She sees danger everywhere and even fears her daughter is trying to physically injure her.

There is a suspenseful atmosphere throughout.  Since events are seen through Jen’s perspective, it becomes difficult to determine what is real and what is the result of Jen’s over-active imagination or paranoia, “the hole of suspicion and desperate anxiety.”  Is there a cat in the house?  Is Lana really trying to hurt her mother?  Statements like “Lack of sleep had made her see things before” and “People had a habit of accusing Jen of imagining things” make the reader doubt what Jen sees.  Jen’s mother comments, “’you do have a tendency to worry unduly, don’t you?’”  And Jen often daydreams and finds herself “startled out of her reverie.”  When things happen, she is sometimes not even certain they happened:  “she had become so used to second-guessing herself that she wondered if she hadn’t dreamed the incident.” 

This book is not full of action and adventure; it is a character study and an examination of a complex mother-daughter relationship written in lucid prose.  It is definitely recommended to readers who appreciated Healey’s first novel or Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. 

Note:  I received a digital ARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.