On a spring night in 2001, teenager Veronica Baker is stabbed to death at an Austin, Texas, bus stop by a drug-crazed woman. Ten years later, Veronica’s murderer, Raelynn Blackwell, is scheduled for execution. Veronica’s death, as well as family members’ differing opinions about justice for her killer, tears her family apart. Veronica’s adoptive mother, Bernadette Baker, experiences a change of heart after meeting her daughter’s killer, and her husband, Marty, a philosophy professor who seems too good to be true, supports his wife in her obsession with Veronica’s killer, even as he suffers a health crisis. But Veronica’s sister, Annamaria Baker, a strident, bitter attorney, wants Raelynn dead. She believes Raelynn and her attorney are playing the system. Meanwhile, Fin, Veronica’s brother, unequivocally opposes the death penalty, even for his own sister’s killer. When Raelynn is spared execution, Bernadette redoubles her efforts to help Raelynn find peace, although it means antagonizing Annamaria, neglecting Marty and uncovering a shocking revelation. Van Soest’s stated purpose for trying her hand at fiction is her “growing conviction that people become empowered to work for personal and social change, not through objective data and studies, but through personal connections that lead them to care enough to take action.” Raelynn and her neglectful, alcoholic mother, Maxine, emerge as surprisingly sympathetic characters. However, Bernadette’s determination to help Raelynn find peace when her own husband’s health is in doubt makes her less likable.
Complex characters populate this well-considered take on capital punishment.