Saturday, 10 August 2013

The next time you see me - Holly Goddard Jones

The Next Time You See MeThe Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Thirteen-year-old Emily Houchens doesn’t have many friends. She finds more comfort playing make-believe in the woods near her house in Roma, Kentucky, than with her classmates, who find her strange and awkward. When she happens upon a dead body hidden in the woods one day, she decides not to tell anyone about her discovery—a choice that begins to haunt her.

Susanna Mitchell has always been a good girl, the dutiful daughter and wife. While her older sister Ronnie trolled bars for men and often drove home at sunrise, Susanna kept a neat house, a respectable job, a young daughter. But when Ronnie goes missing, and Susanna realizes that she’s the only person in Roma who truly cares about her sister’s fate, she starts to question her quiet life and its value.

The Next Time You See Me is the story of how one woman’s disappearance exposes the ambitions, prejudices, and anxieties of a small southern town and its residents, who are all connected, sometimes in unexpected ways. Emily; Susannah; Tony, a failed baseball star-turned-detective, aspiring to be the county’s first black sheriff; and Wyatt, a fifty-five-year-old factory worker tormented by a past he can’t change and by a love he doesn’t think he deserves. Their stories converge in a violent climax that reveals not just the mystery of what happened to Ronnie but all of their secret selves.'

I was sent this in exchange for an honest review. 

What a pleasure to read this debut novel. I was completely captivated from the first chapter to the last.

Great pace and suspense throughout the book, seamless intertwining of all the characters and their place in the novel kept me intrigued and wanting to read on.

The setting is in Roma, Kentucky a small town inhabited by a variety of people who Holly Goddard Jones manages to represent well in the novel. The people conjure up a mixed small town community of people who live pretty ordinary lives where nothing much out of the ordinary happens with its usual misfits and odd balls. The main character is called Susanna who is a teacher at the local school and we are introduced to some of the pupils and learn about their lives and parents some of whom hold important positions in the community. She contrasts the lives of the more privileged pupils with those less fortunate such as Emily who is singled out by the more fortunate students and bullied by them. Susanna’s husband Dale is a band director, Ronnie her sister, Tony a detective who she had a crush on before she married, Emily the socially awkward 13 year old pupil in her class, Christopher the popular older student son of the town lawyer and controlling mother and Wyatt a lonely, unhappy factory worker.

The plot is around Emily finding a body in the woods; she does not tell anyone about it but revisits the body over a period of days. Emily is a deeply troubled teenager; she has a brother who is mentally challenged and who takes up a lot of her parents’ time and energy. Emily has a crush on Christopher but because she is perceived as different, weird, she is picked on by her peers. Christopher is enigmatic and self-assured a leader, trend setter, smart, the kind of boy others are drawn to and admired. He is not unkind really but realises that he can’t allow himself to appear ‘soft’ and so initiates a lot of the bullying that Emily finds herself on the receiving end of.

Susanna has her own troubles of a stale marriage where she is not so much unhappy as appearing to wonder about missed opportunities’. She has a sister who she loves but acknowledges the fact that she has issues around addiction of one kind or another, mostly drink, who seems to have drifted through her life not knowing where she was going. Dale, Susanna’s husband does not like Ronnie and makes no secret about it. Ronnie has a reputation in the small town, she is often picking up men and often drunk but Susanna loves her and defends her.

Ronnie goes missing and this opens up the plot linking this to the body that Emily has found. Through the story the other characters are developed and all have their place in the novel. Susanna discovers how unhappy she is in her marriage when she meets Tony again who is looking into her sisters’ disappearance and she sleeps with him. We feel the cruelty of her life, Wyatt’s life in the factory and how he is ridiculed by his workmates and the pranks they play on him and how he meets Ronnie by chance one night that changes all their lives forever.

This is a cleverly written novel; it has suspense, drama and realism. Given that I have never visited Roma, Kentucky and am not American did not matter, such good writing skills meant that I could still identify with the place and the people. The writing was so good that I could actually picture what they looked like in my mind almost as if this novel was a film I had been watching. Through Holly Goddard Jones’ eyes I knew these people, understood their small minded prejudices’, felt for them – it was amazing how easily Holly Goddard Jones manages to give such a comprehensive view of the residents lives while keeping the momentum of the novel going right up to the end. Very skillful writing I would give this a 5 star and look forward to her next novel with interest.

I would like to thank the publisher for sending this to me. 

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