Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
Most parents would say they know their kids pretty well, so when they do something uncharacteristic for them (we think), we’re surprised. Shocked, even. Or, we’re surprised by the choices they make, sometimes so different to our own. Ultimately, though, we would hate to think our children had a whole life we knew nothing about, something that would re-write everything we thought we knew. That’s the fear Jane Shemilt taps into in Daughter. Here’s the blurb:
The night of the disappearance. She used to tell me everything. They have a picture. It’ll help. But it doesn’t show the way her hair shines so brightly it look likes sheets of gold. She smells very faintly of lemons. She bites her nails. She never cries. She loves autumn, I wanted to tell them. She collects leaves, likes a child does. She is just a child. Find her.
One year later. Naomi is still missing. Jenny is a mother on the brink of obsession. The Malcolm family is in pieces. Is finding the truth about Naomi the only way to put them back together? Or is the truth the thing that will finally tear them apart?
Tense and complex, Daughter plays on the fear all parents have of losing a child. It doesn’t always occur to us that even when our children are present in our lives, we may be losing them anyway. After her 15-year-old daughter goes missing, the shocks keep coming for Jenny – as her son puts it: “You have no idea about me, any more than you had any idea about Naomi.” Jenny has lots of questions, but the answers she’s getting are not what she ever expected. It turns out, that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about her sons and even her husband. The parental blindness is emphasized when another mother, protective of her own daughter (Naomi’s best friend), asks Jenny to stop dragging her daughter into the investigation:
‘They haven’t got secrets. They’re not little kids.’
‘You can’t know that for certain …’
‘I know my daughter, Jen.’
Daughter is an insightful novel that examines the effect that constant busy-ness has on our lives – sometimes blurring our view. Parents with teenagers will relate to the juggling act that can cloud judgement and vision; they will relate to the guilt of missing clues or signs, of not being there at the right time. Jenny’s son Ed is particularly scathing of her, unfairly so at times, redirecting blame for his problems on to his mother. And, they will relate to the self-doubt – was a good parent? What if, what if, what if…
Ed was right: I hadn’t been there enough. Naomi didn’t talk to me in the weeks before she disappeared, but if I’d been there, ready for the moment, she just might have done.
Overall, it’s a sobering, well-crafted read that builds tension as it switches from past to present, building up a picture of life in the Malcolm household in the days leading up to and just after Naomi’s disappearance, and catching the story up again a year or so later. The ending comes as shock – don’t read ahead!
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.