I received an ARC of this book from The Story Plant in exchange for an honest review.
I remember being excited when I saw the description for this book in my emails with Story Plant. It sounded like a good combination of a thriller and women’s fiction, which would soften a few of the edges that I’ve come to expect in thrillers. (For one, the body count would likely be lower.) A story about a woman coming back to her childhood home, facing the demons of her past, and getting more out of the experience than she expected. Solid premise.
And for the most part, the book delivered. …For the most part.
Zoe Rutherford is a woman with issues, and she’d likely be the first to agree with you. Her sister disappeared as a child, her father was abusive, and her mother turtled up into her own personal shell, unable to figure out how to save her family. Her parents are gone now, and she needs to go back to the old home and prepare the house for sale. Zoe herself is coming out of an abusive relationship (in many ways, this trip is her first action of leaving him) and her brother is caught up in his own life, the two having drifted too far from each other since their childhood to be close enough for support.
Needless to say, all the pros and cons of coming back to your old home show their face. Names she remembers. People she once knew. Places with too many memories. Mysteries she never managed to solve. You know, the usual. And as with so many things, nothing is quite as clear-cut as she remembered.
There isn’t a great deal that’s really surprising about this novel. Zoe suffers from Plot Syndrome: everything that happens to her would be fixed if she ever said anything to anyone, but of course the plot can’t keep going if she doesn’t stay silent and keep causing problems. I don’t blame the author or the character for this; that’s how plots run. What I have trouble with is when there’s not much else going for the character for us to root for. In romantic comedies, we put up with the shenanigans because we love the main character and/or their romantic interest and we want to see them finally come through the trials and tribulations and get their happily ever after. I don’t have that with Zoe. Her character is built on running away from anything and anyone she can, so we never see her with much of a relationship with anyone, aside from her missing/dead/something sister.
A character cannot exist in a vacuum, and though there are plenty of people around Zoe doing things, she lives in a vacuum, and that makes growing attached to her difficult. When we finally do see her make a connection…well, I won’t give any spoilers. But by the end, it gives you a “well that figures” sort of reaction.
Some word choices and trope choices in the books frustrated me. In the first 100 pages or so, Zoe is “accosted” by memories something like 4-6 times. First time is good, if it’s a particularly strong and/or traumatic memory. Second time it starts sounding redundant. After that, I’m looking for a thesaurus. Add in the trope of her scar/battle wound from the idiot ex-partner, and she’s starting to sound like Harry Potter. (Also, I didn’t get a clear idea of how long ago the scar incident happened. Some times it sounded like an old scar which could have inspired phantom pains, other times it was still healing and fresh…and thus not a scar yet. I don’t know.)
The ending felt like it was intended to give us all a nice sense of completion and understanding…but the way it was phrased and presented left me confused. I’m still not sure what really happened, nor who did it, and I’m even more confused about Zoe’s involvement than I was at the start. Not optimal for a book which centers around that case. (IN THE WOODS did this as well, though it was tempered by the fact that they never truly made an effort to clear up the cold case, where GIRL WHO STAYED does.)
By a third of the way through the book or so, Crosby hits her stride and the book flows nicely. The setting is clear and the characters multi-dimensional, and the book never plodded. The tempo stayed consistent, which was a saving grace of a sometimes baffling and/or frustrating plot. It’s a good beach book: something to take with you and just read for the sake of reading. I’d just hoped for a little bit more than that.
Rating: *** (Worth a Look)
THE GIRL WHO STAYED hits shelves April 19th, 2016.