Published January 12, 2017 (UK)
Penguin Books Ltd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Extraordinary. Controversial. Explosive.
Those were the words that I first heard used to describe this debut novel by Ali Land. Many were saying that this book was going to be one of the more controversial novels released in 2017.
I knew I just had to read it. I wanted to know if what they said was true.
First of all I LOVED the cover of this book. Gold and black with gold raised lettering….Gorgeous!
I was pulled in from the first sentence:
“Forgive me when I tell you it was me”
The book opens as Annie is talking to a detective who can’t believe what he’s hearing. When she pulls out the stained dungarees so small, the teddy Bear covered with blotches of blood. She tells us that she could have brought more, her mother never knew she kept them. The detective makes a call telling someone to come quickly, his supervisor. He’s unsure if she’s telling the truth. She repeats her story again and again.
She tells them everything…..
Well almost everything.
They send her home and tell her to act normal, that they’re going to come that night. She’s terrified they won’t come but also terrified that they will…
They do come.
Her mother says nothing as she’s dragged from her room. She faces Annie, staring. When no one’s looking Annie nods at her mother.
New name. New family.
After her mother was arrested, Annie (now known as Milly) didn’t speak for three days. It appeared she was in shock. But now, she is getting a fresh start. She thinks that she should feel lucky but she’s scared. Scared of finding out who she might be and scared of everyone else finding out too.
Her new foster family. Her foster dad, Mike is a psychologist, an expert in trauma. Saskia, her foster-mother just wants to make her feel at home. The Newmonts look like a fantastic family and are they very welcoming…..
Well most of them are. Right away Milly realizes that the daughter, Phoebe does NOT want Milly around.
****Possibly some minor spoilers****
Soon there will be a trial and Milly will have to speak of the horrible things her mother has done. She counts the days until the trial begins. Mike will be working with her both to help her and to help her get ready for testifying.
Milly has ongoing conversations with her mother inside her head which gives us insight into the toxic environment Annie/Milly grew up in. Her mother “training” her since an early age.
“Beautiful, pure things make me feel ugly. Tarnished. I remember asking you when I was three, maybe four, where I came from. I waited for you to sweep me up, rub our noses together in an Eskimo kiss and reply, you came for me, you belong with me, I love you. But you didn’t respond, you walked out of the kitchen left me standing there alone”
It’s not long before Milly starts noticing other things about The Newmonts. She begins to see the cracks in the “perfect” family. School becomes another kind of hell for Milly. Mostly due to Phoebe and a few other mean girls. The one saving grace is Miss Kemp. Miss Kemp is a guidance teacher who’s very kind and helps Milly get into therapy. Outside of school Milly has one friend, Morgan. Morgan also has secrets. Life is definitely not easy for her either. Thankfully nobody knows Milly’s story. They only know the story that is made up. But Milly is terrified that someone will find out and then what? What will they think? What will they do?
The terrorizing at school starts to get worse. But Milly won’t tell anyone. I was a bit frustrated with how everyone in Milly’s life seemed oblivious to what was happening.
With everything going on, It feels like it’s just a matter of time before Milly explodes.
What will happen when Milly has finally had enough?
Wow….This really was quite a book. A chilling read. In my opinion a really well-written psychological thriller. An engrossing, disturbing plot with many well-developed yet flawed characters. There were times that I thought the believability envelope was being pushed a bit far, but I was totally wrapped up in the story and able to overlook most of it.
Honestly, I understand this book may not be for everyone. Some things may be triggering for some people. The subject matter is dark and went a bit deeper than I expected. At the same time I didn’t feel like the author overdid it with descriptions of what happened and I appreciated that.
This is a book that will definitely have people talking!
I think this is a very good debut novel and I am already looking forward to reading more from Ali Land.
Thank you, Michael Joseph Ltd and Ali Land for providing an advanced copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest review.