Sara-Jayne Townsend is a published crime and horror writer and likes books in which someone dies horribly. She is founder and Chair Person of the T Party Writers’ Group. http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com/
A year ago, fifteen-year-old Anna Thorne is killed in a fall from the roof of her school. Her family are still shattered by grief. Anna’s mother Kate has gone to pieces, hiding away in her art studio and endlessly painting pictures of Anna in various stages of her life. Her husband Jon struggles to hold his disintegrating marriage together, while also trying to deal with the mental deterioration of his father, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Anna’s sister Lizzie, a year younger, is drowning in a sea of grief, seizing as a lifeline an illicit affair with Anna’s boyfriend Haydn. And as the family all struggle to come to terms with Anna’s death, the shocking truth begins to come out. It seems Anna was not the golden girl everyone thought she was, and was hiding secrets.
This is not so much a novel about death, but grief. It is told from three different points of view – Kate, Jon and Lizzie. Though this gets confusing at times, the grief is palpable, leaping off the page and gripping you by the throat, and each of the characters is clearly defined by the way they cope – or fail to cope – with their grief.
There is a mystery here – did Anna fall, jump, or was she pushed? But as far as mystery novels go, the ending is decidedly unsatisfactory and if you approach the book as a crime novel you may find it disappointing.
Read this instead as a study in grief, and a story about a family healing after a terrible tragedy. It’s far from being light reading, but it feels real. By the end of the novel you are left with a glimmer of hope that this family might find a way out of the darkness, and you realise how much you’ve come to care about the characters, who are so human in their flaws and vulnerabilities. As a story about a family coming to terms with tragedy, it is heart-wrenchingly beautiful, so approach it this way and you will find this an engrossing and utterly compelling read.