Told in alternating points of view between the living and the dead, Jessica Hamilton’s debut novel will be perfect for fans of The Lovely Bones.
Idyllic Avril lsland, owned by the Bennett family, where their hundred-year-old cottage sat nestled in acres of forest. Forty-year-old June Bennett believed that the island had been sold after the summer of her father’s disappearance when she was only twelve years old. It’s months after the shocking death of her older sister May in a fatal car accident, that June finds out that the cottage was never sold. Avril Island is still owned by the Bennett family and now it’s hers.
Still reeling from the grief of losing her sister, June travels back to Avril lsland in search of answers. As she digs, she learns that the townspeople believe her father may in fact have been murdered rather than having abandoned his family in the dead of night, as she was led to believe by her mother. And that’s when she begins to notice strange things happening on the island–missing family possessions showing up, doors locking on their own, unexplained noises in the night, shadowy figures disappearing into the woods. It takes June no time at all to realize that her childhood summers at Avril Island were not at all what they had seemed to be.
Alternating chapters between May and June Bennett spark an interesting hook into this ghost mystery thriller. Extremely close, June loses her older sister May in a tragic auto accident only to set in motion the exploration of family secrets well hidden more than thirty years.
The daughters of well to do parents, they spent their summers on Avril Island. The idealistic laid back warm summer life spent in a gorgeous resort setting is well described and immersive. But their summers on the island ended when June was twelve with the sudden disappearance of her father. Their narcissistic mother divulges that he’d left the family and she subsequently sold the island.
June has also recently divorced an overbearing, unemotional husband and left with two daughters of her own, and now without the sensitive support of her sister goes into deep grieving. She is shocked to learn she is sole owner of the island. Her daughters safely with her ex for the summer, leaves for the resort and the island to retrieve some of those good memories, the happy times, and hopefully a lessening in her grieving process.
The reader begins to learn about their mother, emotionally crippling and manipulative, but beautiful mother. She was the catalyst that drew the sisters closer, stronger in their common bond. The POV of May is compelling, drawing mental pictures of an ethereal sentient trying to “talk,” guide her sister—trying in her own way to remember events that led to the tragedy that split the family and those of her family from the local, year-round folks. May is still not sure why she has been drawn back or for what purpose.
Difficult to become engaged with forty-year old June, she is rather one dimensional. Ezra, the son of the family who did some caretaking of the island, is not fully developed either but characterized as being her only close childhood friend. I doubt June could have lived thirty years on royalties from a one-and-done book published in her twenties (or if still family money—how?). Ezra never married, thoroughly embroiled now in caring for his mother suffering from dementia.
The conclusion kinda veers off the rails but confirms what I suspicioned early on and wondered what took so long. The big reveal is certainly not a surprise. There is, however, a gotcha that you don’t see coming—one more little twist—that adds some fun.
There were some edits missed, it’s an ARC, and a couple contradictions that I’ll assume are fixed prior to release. Otherwise, it is certainly entertaining and for the most part keeps the reader engaged. Just a few points of disbelief to overcome and for a debut novel, an ambitious and worthwhile effort.
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. These are my honest thoughts.
Rosepoint Rating: Three point Five Stars
Genre: Ghost Mysteries, Amateur Sleuth Mysteries
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
- ASIN : B08FZMZ6K2
Print Length: 297 pages
Publication Date: To be released April 13, 2021
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
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The Author: [Goodreads] Jessica Hamilton was born in Australia but grew up in Canada. She has lived and worked in the Czech Republic, Taiwan, India and Japan. She studied writing at the Humber School for Writers as well as George Brown College. She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, son and daughter. What You Never Knew is her first novel.
©2021 V Williams