Review of Grown, by Tiffany D. Jackson

Grown

by Tiffany D. Jackson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 371 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book

There’s a Content Warning at the front of this book for “mentions of sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, and addiction to opioids.” The book begins with the main character, Chanty (short for “Enchanted”) waking up covered with blood and surrounded by blood. I expected a gritty novel about living on the streets.

But then chapter two flashes back and shows us a seventeen-year-old girl attending private school and on the swim team, who’s got a clearly loving and involved family. She’s got a wonderful singing voice, and as the book opens, she goes to an audition for BET’s version of American Idol. She doesn’t win the audition, but she gets the attention of Korey Fields, a 28-year-old rock star. He gives Chanty and her family VIP tickets to his upcoming show.

At the show, Korey gets her phone number, but asks her not to tell anyone. They begin a secret texting exchange.

At this point, I was happy that the book started with blood. That was a distinct signal that this relationship isn’t a good thing, and it’s not going to end well. And it doesn’t. In the name of boosting Chanty’s singing career, Korey convinces her parents to let him give her private lessons and even go on the road with him. To Enchanted, he’s getting her more and more involved in a relationship with him. A relationship that’s more and more controlling.

Since the story is told from Chanty’s perspective as it happens, we see easily how she’s sucked in. How flattered she was to get attention from a big star. How she tells herself he’s not all that much older and it’s meant to be. By the time things start going wrong, she’s already hooked and only wants to please him.

So you know it’s going to end poorly, but the effect is desperately wanting to warn her as Chanty gets more and more sucked in. And then there’s the blood – we don’t end up knowing who is actually responsible for that.

There’s a list of Resources in the Author’s Note at the end. We end up with a thriller that is based on actual cases and may open eyes to what domestic abuse can look like.

And, oh yeah, it’s also a really gripping story.

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Review of The Girls I’ve Been, by Tess Sharpe

The Girls I’ve Been

by Tess Sharpe
read by the author

Listening Library, 2021. 9 hours, 48 minutes.
Review written August 12, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Wow! This thriller for teens doesn’t let up the tension for a second.

The book begins as Norah goes into a bank with her girlfriend and her best friend, Wes. We learn that Norah’s worried about Wes, who’s mad because he hadn’t known Norah and Iris were a couple and this is one more time Norah has lied to him.

Then the guy in the line behind them pulls out a gun.

The bank robbery clearly doesn’t go according to plan – the bank manager is not in his office – so the two would-be robbers take hostages. They have no idea who they’re dealing with in Norah. They’re going to be sorry they thought they could use her to their own advantage.

The story is told beautifully, with little bits of Norah’s background slipping out as the tense situation in the bank keeps developing. We learn she’s escaped her mother, who is a con-artist. Her mother used to find a mark and play a con – and then get out, completely changing their identities. So Norah has been many different girls.

But can she use what she learned from those other girls to get herself and her friends out of the hostage situation alive? It’s for sure not going to be easy.

I wish I could say more – but it’s all revealed in perfectly small, tantalizing doses, and I don’t want to detract from that. Let me simply say that this is one of the best suspense novels I’ve ever read.

And it’s a big mistake for bad men to mess with Norah!

Besides the gratifying triumphs and clever, surprising escapes (I’m talking about the past, not necessarily the bank, because I don’t want to give that away), this book also shows the beautiful friendships Norah has during the present time of the story, after escaping the abusive childhood with her mother. So this book also gives the hope that people can recover and heal. They may still have scars, but they can rise above.

The author reads the audiobook, and it’s just as well I listened to it, because this is a book I don’t think I could have stopped reading if I didn’t have to turn off the sound.

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Review of Jane Anonymous, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Jane Anonymous

by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Wednesday Books (St. Martins), 2019. 306 pages.
Review written December 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Jane Anonymous is a thriller for teens about a girl who was taken captive for seven months.

The story flashes between “Now” as she’s trying to recover and “Then” when the kidnapping unfolded. The book would be too intense done any other way, because it would be unbearable to think she never escaped. As it is, you can’t stop reading to find out what happened to mess with her head so badly and how she did get out of it.

Here’s how the book begins, in a Prologue with the heading “Now.”

Dear Reader(s),

Before ten months ago, I didn’t know that the coil spring from a mattress could be used as a makeshift weapon, or that the rod inside a toilet tank worked just as well as the claw of a hammer.

Before ten months ago, I never imagined that the sense of smell could be so keen – that the scent of my breath, like rotten fruit, could wake me out of a sound sleep, or that cooked rice carries a distinct aroma, like popcorn kernels heating.

Before.

Ten months.

Ago.

I’d never considered the power of light – that when one is deprived of it, illogical thoughts can gnaw like rats at the brain, keeping one up, driving one mad.

Nor had I any reason to predict how intimately I’d come to know myself: the oily stench of my own hair, the salty taste of my own blood, and the touch of my unbathed body (the scaly layer of scabbing that would form all over my skin, and the fire-ant sensation that would crawl up and down my limbs.)

By telling the reader what’s going to happen, the author grabs our attention right away. By weaving together the two timelines, we come to understand that a trauma like that doesn’t get all better simply by escaping the situation.

This powerfully written thriller will have you on the edge of your seat.

wednesdaybooks.com

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Review of Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins
read by Rachel Bavidge with a Full Cast

Penguin Audio, 2017. 12 hours.
Review written March 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook

I decided I’d been reading too many children’s books and I was ready for a thriller, so I checked out this book by Paula Hawkins, who wrote the incredibly suspenseful The Girl on the Train. This one does have suspense, with danger and mysterious deaths.

The setting is an important part of the book. It all happens in Beckford, at the Drowning Pool part of the river that runs through town. Years ago, they used to use the pool to put accused witches through their ordeal and end up drowning them. In more recent years, it’s been the site of multiple suicides.

Nell Abbot has always been obsessed by the Drowning Pool and those who died there. She used to terrorize her little sister Jules with stories of the little boy who saw his mother jump to her death. She was working on a book about the “troublesome women” who died there. But now Nell Abbot is dead, having jumped off a cliff into the river. Or did she jump?

Her fifteen-year-old daughter Lena is convinced she did, and is devastated because of the argument they had shortly before. Jules has been called back to Beckford to care for Lena, and Jules has her own guilt because she’d refused to talk to her sister for years, and had been convinced the urgency in her voice on the phone recently was just a bid for attention.

All of Jules’ narrated sections are in the style of her talking to Nell. She thinks she hears Nell’s voice, and she sees Nell in everything, in all the memories of being in the same house where they grew up, and looking at Lena, who looks so much like Nell when they were young.

But it turns out that the little boy of of Nell’s old story is Sean Townsend, the detective in charge of her case. He didn’t actually see his mother jump into the river so many years ago, but he was at the river, and his mother’s death in the same way brings extra emotion to the case. And there was another death in the river only a few months before Nell, when Lena’s best friend Katie jumped to her death. Katie’s mother can’t forgive Lena for still being alive, and she couldn’t forgive Nell for being so obsessed with women drowning in the river that she surely gave Katie the idea.

But that’s just the beginning of this complicated story. We’ll find out more about all those recent deaths – from Sean’s mother to Katie to Nell. And to do it will take many perspectives. I wish I had paid attention and realized when I started listening that it was a full cast production. At first, I quickly lost track of who was who in the many voices I heard. It helped when I realized my eaudiobook showed the name of the current narrator on my phone screen, and I think if I’d read the book in print, that would have been easier to follow. There were so many characters, the different voices didn’t help me keep track of who was who.

It’s a sordid story. It seems like almost everyone in it was having sex with someone they really shouldn’t have had sex with. And I’m not talking merely adultery. There’s an awful lot of death, too – though we know that right from the start. Let me just say that not all the deaths in this book turn out to be suicide, which is also not a surprise. Who is responsible for different deaths is more of a surprise.

The characters also aren’t tremendously likable. Though by the end, I was especially rooting for Jules and Lena to make a family relationship with each other and find peace.

So it’s not exactly a pleasant story – but it’s certainly suspenseful and engaging. I stayed up an extra hour to finish it when I got to the end because I didn’t want to put off finding out what happened. Paula Hawkins does know how to weave a suspenseful story and feed us bits of what happened in a way that realization gradually dawns on us how much is at stake.

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Review of Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

Even If We Break

by Marieke Nijkamp

Sourcebooks Fire, 2020. 306 pages.
Review written December 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

Even If We Break is a Then There Were None-style thriller for teens. As the book begins, five teens are making their way to a high-tech mountain cabin owned by one of them. There was a storm the day before that blocked the path for the car and boulders on the path still make it difficult for the two who have mobility issues.

We get the perspective of different teens in each chapter. Finn and Ever are transgender, with Ever using they/them pronouns. Finn uses crutches and Maddy, who is autistic, has been in an accident recently that changed her from a star lacrosse athlete to someone whose knee hurts when she walks, especially over boulders. Liva is the one whose parents own the cabin, and Carter works for her father’s company.

They are all high school students, but Liva, Carter, and Finn have graduated and will be going off to college at the end of the summer. So their three years of playing a role-playing game together will come to an end. They’re going to have one last immersive game experience in the mountain cabin first. Even though Finn hadn’t been joining them as often lately, and even though Liva’s ex-boyfriend Zac had stopped altogether.

There are stories that the mountain is haunted, and Ever, the gamemaster, weaves that into their adventure. Every adventure started with a murder, as the group are Inquisitors from the land of Gonfalon, and the Council hires them to use magic and skills to solve crimes. For this adventure, a councilor herself (represented by a pile of blankets) is dead.

But as the adventure begins, things begin to become all too real. The power goes out. They hear a music box, just like the story of the haunted mountain. Then bloody handprints. And yes, there’s murder. And that high-tech cabin? It’s hard to get out when it locks.

Never mind solving the murder – the teens who are left want to escape with their lives.

The author pulls the story off well. I’m tempted to say more, but won’t for fear it will give you clues. I did love the central role of the transgender teens and enjoyed that all the characters had emotional depth.

And I was very glad I had a chance to finish it in one sitting! This is not a book you want to set aside.

mariekenijkamp.com
FIREreads.com

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Review of Prime Suspects, by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville, illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Prime Suspects

The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations

by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville
illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Princeton University Press, 2019. 230 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 9/19/19 from a library book

Okay, now I’ve seen everything! This is a graphic novel murder mystery about research mathematics!

The characters have names that play off of the names of distinguished mathematicians. The lead detective uses ideas from his namesake.

The most interesting part is that when the detective team goes to the autopsy of recent victim Arnie Int, lieutenant of the Integer Crime Family, they found everything inside his body has decomposed – except for prime numbers! The apprentice detective pulls a bloody number out of his body and says, “It’s a prime, sir!”

They find the body is similar to a previous victim, Daisy Permutation. I like the scene where the detectives discuss it while playing billiards:

“It’s not a similarity, but in both victims, the internal organs were completely decomposed.
Except that in Arnie Int there was a smattering of primes, and in Daisy permutation, a smattering of cycles.”

“But that’s only to be expected.
Cycles are the fundamental constituent parts of a permutation, just like primes are the fundamental constituent parts of an integer.”

And it’s all done in a dark style, with some clueless videographers to explain things to, and mathematical puns in the background.

The math itself – where they compare the set of integers to the set of permutations – went over my head, and I’ve got a Master’s in Math. I read the back matter where it’s explained, and it still went over my head – though I at least understood what basic concepts were at work. And I did, after reading, understand at least that cycles are the building blocks of permutations as primes are the building blocks of integers.

And I’m still tickled to death that someone made a graphic novel thriller about higher math.

There are fun ads on the inside cover, such as: “Are you looking to get away from it all? Why not come and stay at Hilbert’s fabulous “Infinite Hotel”? There is ALWAYS room for as many guests as want to stay.” And: “RIEMANN’S ROOTS: We’ll plant your organic roots in straight rows. Guaranteed to have at least 41.69% of the roots in a straight line!” And: “Fermat’s Dreams: Truly remarkable ideas for the future which this inside cover is too small to contain!”

The back matter takes up 50 large pages, so it takes as long to read as the 180 pages of the graphic novel part. Yes, it includes the math, but also you’ve got notes on the mathematicians referred to, notes about the references in the art, and an explanation of how the book came to be – beginning as a screenplay (which has been performed in live readings).

Here’s the beginning of that section:

Integers and permutations are fundamental mathematical objects that inhabit quite distinct worlds though, under more sophisticated examination, one cannot help but be struck by the extraordinary similarities between their anatomies. This comic book stemmed from an experiment to present these similarities to a wider audience in the form of a dramatic narrative. In these after-pages, we will clarify some of the mathematical ideas alluded to in the comic book, giving the details of Gauss’s lectures and Langer’s presentation at the police precinct. We will also break down the content of some of the background artwork, explaining how some of it refers to breakthroughs in this area of mathematics, some of it to other vaguely relevant mathematics, while some content is simply our attempt at mathematical humor.

Our goal in Prime Suspects has been not only to popularize the fascinating and extraordinary similarities between the fine details of the structure of integers and of permutations, but also to draw attention to several key cultural issues in mathematics:

— How research is done, particularly the roles of student and adviser;
— The role of women in mathematics today; and
— The influence and conflict of deep and rigid abstraction.

I’m not sure everyone will love this book, but I sure do! Sure to be all the rage in graduate wings of math departments across the nation!

press.princeton.edu

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Review of This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song

by Victoria Schwab

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2016. 427 pages.

Kate Harker and August Flynn live in a divided city overrun by monsters. The monsters are created when violent acts are committed. In the north side of the city, people pay Kate’s father for protection. Those who wear one of his medallions will not be touched by the monsters (or the monsters will pay). In the south side of the city, August’s father’s forces patrol to control the monsters. But he uses three of the most powerful type of monster — which includes August himself.

But the truce between the two powerful men and the two halves of the city is growing shaky.

Kate has been sent away for her own protection. But after she gets kicked out of six boarding schools, her father has to take her back. She will attend Colton Academy on the north side of Verity. August is also going to attend Colton Academy. Because the truce may fail. And Kate Harker may be the one thing her father cares about.

Monsters are only capable of telling the truth. Which might make it hard for August to pose as human, but he manages. His type of monster, the Sunai, can steal the souls of sinners by making music. He can tell when someone has committed violence, the kind of violence that produces monsters — their shadows don’t hold still.

The Sunai bring about justice. They work for good, right? But when they get Hungry, they can lose control….

Kate wants to prove she’s strong enough to live in the city, that she is enough like her father to not fear the monsters and rule the city. She notices there’s something off about August.

When monsters attack her school and it looks like the Sunai are doing it — but August is the one who saves her — Kate realizes that someone is trying to make the truce fall apart. Both she and August are in danger, but can they trust each other?

This book has an imaginative premise and explores what makes a human and what makes a monster. There is gore and violence, but interesting thoughts about society and violence and family.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Random House Audiobooks, 2018. 12 CDs.
Starred Review

I’m reviewing another audiobook for adults! Our Newbery committee agreed not to listen to audiobooks of eligible books, since that might influence us one way or the other. So I’m using my commute to listen to books for adults. After reading The Woman in Cabin 10 and thoroughly enjoying spending time with a thriller, I was excited to see the library had an audio version of Ruth Ware’s latest thriller.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a completely different story from The Woman in Cabin 10, but it, too, sets the stage, lets you thoroughly understand the characters – and leads up to a completely tense, edge-of-your-seat, the-author-wouldn’t-really-let-her-die-would-she? moment.

At the beginning of this book, Harriet (known as “Hal”) Westaway receives a letter from her lawyer informing her that her grandmother has died and she needs to go to Trepassen House in Cornwall to receive her inheritance.

The thing is – Hal’s grandmother died before she was born. Her mother was single (said her father was a student she had a one-night stand with) and though she was named Westaway, her birth certificate lists a totally different name than the supposed grandmother of the letter.

But Hal is in deep financial trouble. When her mother died, Hal continued her tarot-reading booth on the pier in Brighton. But that’s not a reliable income, and she got in trouble borrowing money from a loan shark after her mother’s death, and now he wants her to pay back several times what she originally borrowed.

What if she just goes to Cornwall and tries to claim the money? They’re rich. Surely it won’t hurt them for her to take a little.

But when Hal gets there, she finds people with faces, not just selfish rich folks. Though there are some disturbing things about the house.

And then she finds out two things. One is that her mother spent time at Trepassen House right around the time Harriet was conceived. The other is that Mrs. Westaway named Hal in her will – and left her the bulk of her estate, passing over her three living children and the missing daughter who had the same name as Hal’s mother.

This book moves slowly, building the scenes and the relationships step by step by step. Which makes it all the more powerful when it comes to the terrifying, but ultimately satisfying, ending.

The narrator is the same one who read The Woman in Cabin Ten — and though Hal wasn’t as desperate a woman as that narrator, I enjoyed Imogen Church’s way of voicing her just as much. Though it’s no secret I’ll enjoy listening to anyone who has a British accent – she does a good job on top of that.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers, here’s another outstanding one.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Encore (Simon & Schuster Audio), 2016. 9 discs.
Starred Review

While I’m reading lots and lots of children’s books for the 2019 Newbery Medal, during my commute I indulged in a thriller for adults. This book is so intense, I can’t promise that it didn’t mess with my driving.

We’ve got a wonderfully unreliable narrator. Lo Blacklock is a travel writer, and she gets an opportunity to go on a luxury cruise on a small lavish ship while her boss is on maternity leave. But a few days before the trip, she suffered a break in, and she’s very much on edge. And then, yes, she had quite a bit too much to drink the first night of the cruise.

So when she wakes up suddenly in the night to the sound of a body thrown into the sea, we definitely wonder if that’s really what she heard. But there must be an explanation for the fact that before dinner, there was a woman in Cabin 10 who gave Lo mascara when she asked to borrow some, and didn’t want it back. After Lo hears the splash in the night and calls security, there is no one in Cabin 10, and she’s told that the person who booked that room never came on the cruise at all. So who did Lo see and talk with?

The security staff don’t believe her. The reader isn’t sure we should either. The ship keeps traveling on.

But some more odd things start to happen.

This book does a wonderful job of setting a puzzle which I not only couldn’t solve, but I couldn’t imagine how the author could possibly solve.

Let’s just say that the author did make the puzzle work – with plenty of life-and-death danger and suspense along the way.

The narrator was fabulous. Though I have to say that I’m easily pleased by anyone with a British accent – but she did a good job and was a delight to listen to. Lo’s precarious mental state was communicated often by the tone of voice, sounding somewhat desperate when called for, or bewildered, or simply exhausted.

This was one of those audiobooks I eventually brought into my house to finish, because I couldn’t stand waiting until my next commute. Highly recommended for a version of a locked-room mystery – at sea.

audio.simonandschuster.com

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Review of A Beautiful, Terrible Thing, by Jen Waite

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal

by Jen Waite

Plume (Penguin Random House), 2017. 258 pages.
Starred Review

I thought I’d read just a chapter of this book on Friday night. But once I started, I couldn’t look away until I’d finished.

Yes, it’s the true story of an apparently wonderful husband who cheated, lied, and turned out to be a psychopath. (There is a disclaimer at the front that this is not an official diagnosis. This isn’t an official diagnosis, either.) Many of my readers know that I, too, had a husband who cheated – and the long, awful time of suspicion and being lied to and desperately trying to fix things eventually ended with finding out it had all been much worse than I’d thought.

Jen Waite’s story is different from mine. She had only five years she thought she’d had a good marriage (and came to find out, he’d been cheating very early on). But that feeling of devastation? The world-toppling discovery that leaves you not knowing what was ever real? The wondering, always wondering what he’s up to right now and compulsion to check? All of that felt horribly familiar.

When I read that her husband was working long, long hours – through the night to the early hours of the morning – I just cringed. (That one took her a long time to figure out. And I know why – He’s working so hard! You want to be supportive! He’s sacrificing so much time for his job!)

Anyway, this is a story of a marriage – how they met and fell in love quickly – and betrayal. The discovery happened shortly after the birth of their first child. Jen Waite tells the story beautifully and suspensefully. She starts with the moment she read the email her husband had written that changed her world. It’s just a paragraph, which ends like this:

What I am seeing must have a logical explanation. It must be a misunderstanding. As soon as I can talk to my husband, he will explain and everything will be OK. This is not an emergency yet. If I can just hear his voice, I will be able to breathe again. Balancing the baby in one arm, I reach for my cell phone with the other, unconsciously bouncing my knees to soothe my daughter’s screams.

After that, she alternates between sections describing “Before” and “After.” The “Before” sections deal with how they met and built a life together. The “After” sections involve finding out what, actually, happened, and how she very slowly figured out the extent of his betrayal.

Jen finishes up the book describing how she has resolved to become a licensed therapist, specializing in recovery from psychopathic relationships. Yes! So it ultimately becomes a story about wresting good out of a nightmarish situation.

For me, reading it gave me a sense of solidarity – a reminder that I wasn’t the only one who ever got cheated on. (I know this intellectually, but that’s different from feeling sympathy as the author describes going through it.) But it also gave me a lovely realization of how far I’ve come. Yes, I remember being so devastated – but I am not devastated now! I remember trying to get my life back on track and find my footing – and (Wow!) I have done so! Not only am I working full-time as a children’s librarian and youth services manager – I even had my dream come true and am on the Newbery committee! And I would never have even become a librarian if my husband hadn’t left me – I was enjoying working part-time far too much.

I liked her emphasis that life goes on and we can emerge better and stronger. Yes! This is true!

You may not have such a personal connection with this book, but either way, it’s still a gripping and emotional true story. It will give you insight, compassion, and understanding for people caught in such an awful situation.

I checked the author’s website, and she’s got further encouragement for people who are putting their lives back together. May she continue to grow better and stronger because of what she’s been through.

jenwaite.com
plumebooks.com

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