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by Angela Pisel

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-399-17636-4
Publisher: Putnam

A death in the family haunts a mother and daughter.

When Sophie Bradshaw met tall, handsome plastic surgeon Thomas Logan (a Dr. McDreamy look-alike), she told him that her father had died of a heart attack just before her high school graduation; her mother died of cancer when she was 12. She had no siblings. The truth was far different, but for Sophie, marrying Thomas gave her “a fresh start, a clean slate....No one, she’d decided, would ever know her shame, or the scandal that had ripped apart a little girl’s fairy tale.” In her briskly paced debut novel, therapist and life coach Pisel brings Sophie to a crisis point: about to turn 30, she suspects that Thomas is having an affair. And even more shattering, she receives a letter from a lawyer that draws her back into the drama she desperately wanted to flee. Sophie’s mother, Grace, is alive, in prison awaiting execution for killing her infant son, William. She was convicted of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, in which a parent deliberately sickens a child in order to gain attention for herself. Grace’s lawyer believes she is innocent, but appeals have run out, and he hopes only to carry out Grace’s wish to reunite with her daughter before she dies. The ticking clock propels the narrative, told in alternating chapters by Grace herself and by a narrator who relates all of Sophie’s experiences and thoughts. Thomas is facing his own crisis: one of his patients—a little girl—dies after surgery, leaving him shaken and confused. “I’ve done this procedure multiple times, and I’ve never had a bad outcome,” he tells the girls’ parents. But the “outcome,” they remind him, was their daughter, and they decide to sue. Despite some predictable plot moves and stereotypical characters (Sophie calls her tony neighbors “the synthetics”), Pisel evokes sympathy for Sophie and Grace.

An admirable debut.