When Ellie Lerner hears that her lifelong friend Lucy has been murdered, she leaves her husband and job in America behind, to fly to London and look after Lucy’s 8 year old daughter, Sophie, who witnessed the murder. Sophie has stopped speaking to anybody, and her father Greg is falling apart. As Ellie learns more about Lucy’s life and the secrets she kept, she realises that she did not know her friend as well as she thought she did. And Ellie also has to face the fact that her own marriage is in trouble – she and her husband Phillip have been steadily growing apart since Ellie suffered a miscarriage two years earlier.
This is a very readable book. The writing flows beautifully and keeps the story moving along at a decent pace. All of the characters were well drawn and entirely believable, especially that of Sophie, a bright and sparky 8 year old who finds herself thrust into an unimaginable nightmare. Ellie demonstrates the healing power of reading, in encouraging Sophie to read Ellie’s own favourite book, The Secret Garden, with her. While the story of The Secret Garden itself is not explored in any great depth, the effect that it had on Sophie is explored, and I particularly enjoyed these parts.
The book is narrated by Ellie, and she is a likeable main character, although at times I did feel like shaking her in frustration, especially when she seemed to be dallying over what she should do about certain situations, when (to the reader at least), it appeared to be perfectly obvious! However, her flaws only made her all the more easy to believe and invest in.
There were a number of subplots, including those of Ellie’s brother and her parents. While these were not relevant to the main thread of the story, they were enjoyable – I particularly warmed to Ellie’s mother – and did not make the story feel cluttered. Ironically the one character I did not particularly like was that of Lucy. Although only spoken of in past tense, she came across as selfish and very self-centred.
Overall however, this was a very enjoyable read, which beautifully captured different stages of grief, love, pain and redemption. I would particularly recommend it to fans of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, and will certainly be looking out for more books by Julie Buxbaum.