good as gone

It’s the mother of a missing child’s most cherished wish: the child, returned.

But what if you had doubts? What if your long-lost daughter wasn’t being completely honest about the circumstances surrounding her abduction? What if you started to wonder if your daughter – your real daughter – might be dead after all? Who might the woman living with you be?

Amy Gentry’s astonishing debut explores exactly this scenario.

What’s it about?

Eight years ago beautiful, innocent Julie Whitaker was kidnapped in the middle of the night from her own bedroom.

Since then, her family have barely survived, hoping for her return while knowing it’s nearly impossible.

And then the nearly impossible happens: Julie is home. Or is she? And what did happen to her while she was gone?

What’s it like?

Suspenseful. Chilling. Cleverly constructed.

I loved this book and read it in a couple of days, sneaking pages into the smallest crevices of my days (Quick! The children are occupied hunting for worms! Read another page while reminding them – frequently – to be gentle.)

There were so many directions the story could have gone in after the seeds of doubt are sown over Julie’s identity, and I’m sure Amy Gentry could have made any of them into a gripping story, but I loved the backwards-chaining narrative she uses. (In terms of narrative structure, this reminded me of ‘Memento’ but with a female protagonist and a wider supporting cast.)

As we witness Julie settling back into life with the Whitakers, we begin to learn about Gretchen’s life…and Violet’s…and Mercy’s… These girls all have sad stories which are beautifully told; Gentry’s style varies from the understated to the poetic as the mundanity of these girls’ uncomfortable lives veers into significant moments, pivotal for their survival.

What’s to like?

I loved the narrative structure, the story arc, the characterisation and the writing. So, everything, really.

Anna’s emotional unavailability is sufficiently well-established by her early spending splurge (what do you do when your 13 year old daughter re-emerges aged 21 after a traumatic 8 years absence during which she experienced multiple forms of abuse? Take her shopping, of course,) that her refusal to discuss the missing years seemed perfectly in keeping with her “hands-off” parenting style, though just occasionally I did want to scream, “JUST TALK TO YOUR DAUGHTERS!” at her.

Further thoughts

The mother in me squirms a little when considering Anna’s parenting. Could she have prevented Julie’s disappearance? Was her emotional distance from her daughters part of the problem? Is Gentry placing part of the blame for Julie’s kidnapping on a certain style of mothering or simply exploring the pressures society places on all women?

It’s no surprise to learn that Gentry has done a lot of research and spent a lot of time supporting women who have been abused. There’s a raw honesty to her writing that makes each story she recounts compelling. I’m lucky enough not to have experienced any of the situations she writes about, but the unemotional brutality of them feels right.

Final thoughts

This is a perfect suspense novel; suspend your disbelief (why on earth didn’t the police investigate a certain key avenue? If they had done so then, well, there would be no story, but it stretches belief that they didn’t try at all) and this is a gripping, dark tale of childhood destroyed, sexuality abused and a mother’s reluctant journey to find out the truth about her daughter’s disappearance.

Stunning. I highly recommend this.

‘Good as Gone’,
Amy Gentry,
2017, HQ, paperback ARC
Many thanks to the author and the publishers for providing me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.