My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences?
In Frances's mind, beautiful, successful, ecstatically married Emma Dunham is the height of female perfection. Frances, recently dumped with spectacular drama by her boyfriend, aspires to be just like Emma. So do her close friends and fellow teachers, Lisa and Jill. But Lisa's too career-focused to find time for a family. And Jill's recent unexpected pregnancy could have devastating consequences for her less-than-perfect marriage.
Yet sometimes the golden dream you fervently wish for turns out to be not at all what it seems--like Emma's enviable suburban postcard life, which is about to be brutally cut short by a perfect husband turned killer. And in the shocking aftermath, three devastated friends are going to have to come to terms with their own secrets . . . and somehow learn to move forward after their dream is exposed as a lie.
My friend Hallie had just returned from visiting her parents when she phoned me. She told me it had been a rough couple of weeks. "You know my parents live in Littleton, Colorado, didn't you?" she asked. It was April, 1999. Hallie was visiting her parents on April 20, 1999 while her youngest sister was at school. For four horrifying hours, she and her parents did not know if her sister was dead or alive. At last the news crews caught footage of the last survivors exiting the school with their hands on their heads. Hallie's sister was the last one to leave, stepping past her best friend's body.
Hallie's sister eventually healed, graduated from high school, left her small town and went to college in another state and married. For the first couple of years, loud noises made her dive under tables and cower. She wore dark clothes, trying to not stand out in a crowd. She has healed by adjusting to the world around her yet she is indelibly changed.
With my own prologue, the book begins with a prologue. It's a 911 call. There is a shooter at a private school. Emma is dead. Possibly the shooter. Maybe he got Frannie.
The story explores multiple relevant issues. More than a school shooting, the story provides a perspective of before, a trauma, then after. The book is told by Frannie's point of view. She is a speech therapist at an elite school. Frannie's best friend is Jill and we soon meet Lisa. It is the beginning of the school year and Frannie is to start the year as a newly single woman. She'd been living with another teacher, Ryan, who had dumped her. Also, we meet the new Head of School, Emma and her creepy husband.
The book explores the different faces of bullying and repercussions along with the social tendency to turn a blind eye to bad behavior. The way society often blames the victim or the victim blames him or herself. How we don't know anybody completely and we certainly don't know their secrets.
Another big topic that I really appreciated is the way women see themselves - very often carrying their insecurities from their self esteem of junior high. In order to be fully loved or appreciated, we must never be completely ourselves. We are appreciated only for what we can offer our significant others - beauty, slender body, great sex, support of the other, etc. We are never free to simply be ourselves for fear of being rejected. This is both Frannie's and Jill's issue, along with others that pop up. In the meantime, we meet Lisa, the Jersey girl who is true to herself.
Returning to the trauma of the school shooting, the reader and the characters never completely understand the senselessness of the violence or the people involved, much like the Columbine tragedy. On the other hand, the story continues after the violence. Each character handles it differently. There is a lot of processing, nightmares, regret, and blaming of self. The story covers much of that.
At the same time, there is a lot of dialogue I struggled to get through. Jill and Frannie have their own language and understanding of one another. They don't always finish their sentences, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks. I didn't feel like I knew them well enough to finish their thoughts. They also have a lot of dirty jokes. It's also a little slow at times and transitions were not clear for me.
Those issues aside, the book provides a good starting point for discussion of bullying, dealing with extreme trauma along with women self esteem issues.
*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.