Sara-Jayne Townsend is a published crime and horror writer and likes books in which someone dies horribly. She is founder and Chair Person of the T Party Writers’ Group. http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com/
Seven years ago, three-year-old Phoebe Piper went missing at a family picnic and was never found. Ten-year-old Molly Jackson, recently uprooted to Norfolk, has suspected for a long time that she is really Phoebe, and when her great-uncle Dan dies suddenly, she finds evidence to support her theory. Molly’s life is further disrupted with the arrival of Dan’s sister Janice, who gave Molly’s mother Suzie up for adoption when she was a baby.
The underlying theme of this book – and the meaning behind the title – involves people who feel displaced in their lives. The more convinced Molly becomes that she is Phoebe, the more frantic she is to return to her ‘real’ parents, and that the longer she keeps on living the ‘wrong’ life the worse things will be.
Suzie, christened Sandra by her adoptive parents, returns to her birth name of Suzanne when she discovers she was adopted, driven to find her birth family by a need to get back to the life she feels she was supposed to have. Janice, returning to her family home for the first time in many years, keeps finding reminders of the life she used to have – when she was a wild young woman in the 1960s, doing drugs and hanging out with rock stars, and she wonders when she became the old woman she sees in the mirror.
All of them are hankering after an idealised life that is more desirable to them than the one they are currently living. And a big part of the story is the sub-plot of Janice being reconciled with the daughter she gave up for adoption over forty years ago, and Suzie’s struggle to come to terms with her feelings of abandonment.
Amongst all the family angst there is a mystery, involving Phoebe Piper and another young girl who went missing in 1967. The reader is taken off on a path that involves following all these apparently unconnected threads, but of course in the end they do connect, the mystery is solved and most of the characters eventually learn that a better life only comes if you accept the one you are living.
The story unfolds from the point of view of the three generations of women – Janice, Suzie and Molly. Laura Wilson does a particularly good job of getting into the head of ten-year-old Molly, with the sort of logic that makes perfect sense when you are ten years old but which mystifies adults.
This is a very dense novel with many layers, and all of them are skilfully done. The characters are realistically drawn, sympathetic despite their flaws, and the mystery, though buried for a while beneath the family drama, is utterly gripping. A must-read for fans of family drama as well as mystery readers.