These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I have been debating whether to give this book one or two stars for a while now but, in all honesty, I did not like this book. I wanted to like this book, I struggled to get to the end to see if there was some redeeming last minute revelation but, alas, it never came.
The story rotates around 4 women, - Allison, an ex convict, Brynn, her sister, Charm, a nurse to-be and Claire, a bookshop owner - a little boy and a terrible secret that seems to connect them all. I didn't see the terrible secret. Not because it wasn't terrible but because it didn't seem that much of a secret to me. I know this novel was meant to address the issue of newborn children abandonment and promote Safe Haven program but I honestly think it could have been dealt much better in a pamphlet. Or something.
This is what I'd call a book of stereotypes.
All characters are so cut out from some pre-printed cliché that this book gives a whole new nuance to the meaning bi-dimensional. As in made of paper. All characters are pushed to the excess, all black and white with no shades of grey. This is so not realistic. Allison is the monster who is secretly a saint, Brynn is the psycho, Claire is Perfect Mom, Charm is just plain St. Charm, Gus is the dying martyr. Charm's mother is the Bad mother and even Allison and Brynn's parents come out like "the source of all evil". This is less feasible than Urban Fantasy, for god's sake. Other characters like Christopher and the girl's Grandma are so barely sketched and superficially introduced that I didn't even understand their reason for being in the book.
Aside from the stereotyping factor, there were some major inconsistencies in the book that had me in brow furrowing mode repeatedly. So this Allison girl lives in Linden Falls, Iowa - not New York, mind - and goes to jail for manslaughter for abandoning and drowning her newborn baby daughter, fruit of a secret and illicit relationship with a college guy (Mr. X, he's so flat). Now, I live in a town of 30,000 people and I have no idea how bigger Linden Fall could be - i think it is a fictitious town - but I reckon it would take several hundreds of thousands more inhabitants, NOT to know who the mommy/murderer/teenage's identity is. Even if she's underage and her name hasn't been disclosed. If something horrible like what happened in the book happened here, not only would it go on national news but everybody in town would know who the girl is, the family, where they live. It's normal, people talk. But apparently, when Allison comes back to her town after a mere 5 years NOBODY recognizes her. She starts working in a bookshop and NOT ONE single client says: "Hey, isn't that that child murderer girl......?" NOBODY. This is a bit unlikely, considering she is repeatedly referred to as Linden Falls' golden girl, therefore popular, an overachiever.
Then, in a weird attempt to create a shocker I think, Allison never mentions Joshua until she meets him and suddenly she can't think of anything else but him. That's too much of a humongous detail to overlook, isn't it? Which only makes me think of a cheap strategy concocted by the author to.... yeah, create a shocker. It didn't work, it felt like a black eye, it was so obvious.
Furthermore, stylistically, the alternating 1st/3rd person POV didn't work for me. I'm not referring to the difficulty of keeping track of who was telling what because that was made pretty clear by the heading of each chapter. I'm referring to the continuous 1st/3rd person switching. First of all.... WHY? Why tell all Allison and Brynn's parts in 1st person and Claire and Charm's in 3rd? Was there some recondite meaning I totally didn't get? Second, it didn't work. The 1st person parts were ok but the 3rd person parts were awful, flat, devoid of personality.... pretty much like the characters. It was like reading a bad newspaper article.
Finally, this book was just not for me. There was too much drama, too many people with issues crammed together in a single space, their greek drama was all over the place. Actually, it just dawned on me that, in a way, they all had their kind of psychosis going on. Even Perfect Mom.
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