“I did something terrible, Grace. I hope you can forgive me.”‘

Charlie’s last words to best friend Grace have haunted her since Charlie died four months ago. What can Charlie possibly have done? It can’t be worse than what Grace did…can it?

What’s it about?

After her best friend dies, Grace feels set adrift. In an attempt to reorient herself, she digs into their shared past, trying to understand who wanted to do her harm when she was a teenager – and whether or not someone wishes her harm now.

Best mate Charlie always wanted to find her dad but her mum refused to discuss the topic. Now, in her revitalised search for Charlie’s dad, Grace discovers a woman claiming to be Charlie’s sister. But is Anna really who she says she is? Why does Grace’s boyfriend, Dan, seem to dislike her so much? Is someone really stalking Grace? And what, exactly, happened to Charlie? It’s all a mystery that Grace is determined to solve…

What’s it like?

Dramatic. Intriguing. A little frustrating in places. From the opening pages – set in a muddy, dark forest which Grace visits¬†on ‘heart-heavy legs’ and where she digs despite the ‘rockets of pain’ in her wrists – the atmosphere is intense. Nothing is easy, normal or commonplace, which¬†Jensen emphasises early on¬†when Grace¬†passes a piano in her lounge:¬†‘I’ll never play again. It’s still too painful to be reminded of the time I had a normal life. A normal family.’ Then we learn that, ‘There’s nothing quite as corrosive as guilt; it eats away at you from the inside out.’ Throw in a mysterious silent phone call and the revelation that Dan hasn’t come home all night, and the stage is set for some serious drama.

Then we move back in time to when Grace first met Charlie and Dan. When this chapter opens, we find Grace in the middle of a panic attack and insistent that she won’t accepted at her new school when they know what she did. The solution? Don’t tell them, say her grandparents. Simple. Except, of course, it isn’t, and one particular girl seems happy to use Grace’s past against her in a malicious campaign that mars Grace’s teenage years.

Jensen specialises in creating uncertainty. What did Grace do? What did Charlie do? Who wrote those poisonous notes? Is Grace really being followed? What on earth is Dan up to? Throughout we are on edge, waiting to discover the truth about various characters, but one thing that becomes clear very quickly is Anna’s malicious intent. Why Anna wants to hurt Grace is unclear; that she wishes her harm sparkles through almost everything she does, whether that’s criticising Grace’s appearance or attempting to poison her. And yet, somehow, Grace is oblivious. This led to some very frustrating moments where I just wanted to shout “Look! Open your eyes and LOOK at what Anna is doing.”

Dan’s attitude to Anna¬†is puzzling, but is also something Grace should care more about. She’s obsessed by the idea of finding out the “truth” about Charlie, but initially determined to close her eyes to everything else. I did like that as the story progresses she becomes a stronger character, able to make important decisions and move forward in a positive direction. By the end, I no longer wanted to shake her!

Final thoughts

The difficulty with proclaiming that any novel has ‘a brilliant twist you won’t see coming’ is that people will then be looking out for it – and so they are very likely to see it coming! The twist itself is guessable but this isn’t a problem (it’s not overly obvious) and it’s suitably dramatic, though some of¬†the details strain credulity. The dramatic¬†closing scenes seem designed to atone for the relative innocence of a couple of the much-laboured¬†over secrets¬†the novel ultimately reveals.

Finally, this is a powerful presentation of the effects guilt, loss and grief can have on people. It can be enough to drive you mad…

‘The Sister’, Louise Jensen, 2016, Bookouture, ebook