A harrowing but uneven domestic drama that explores the web of interpersonal motivations and reactions surrounding a...


Saving Phoebe Murrow

A novel illustrates the consequences of online bullying.

The Monday after 13-year-old Phoebe Murrow comes home stumbling drunk, Isabel Winthrop, a high-powered Washington, D.C., attorney and the girl’s mother, wonders whether she did the right thing by calling the police about Sandy Littleton, the parent who hosted Saturday’s party. Isabel’s husband, Ron Murrow, “found their daughter’s wobbly walk vaguely amusing” and thinks Isabel overreacted. When Phoebe calls Monday evening, crying hysterically, Isabel races home, terrified about her daughter’s “tendency to cut herself when under extreme emotional distress.” At this point, somewhat frustratingly, the author rewinds two months to Phoebe’s first day as a freshman at Georgetown Academy. Phoebe and Isabel are eager to leave “the ugly duckling years of middle school behind,” including the teen’s “self-injury” response to intense bullying. But while Isabel navigates the “clubby culture of DC private school moms” at a cocktail party, she learns that Phoebe got caught with Sandy’s daughter Jessie smoking pot, then catches Sandy flirting with Ron. Isabel’s humiliation results in double punishment for Phoebe: grounded for a month, and no more contact with “bad influence” Jessie. Desperately depressed, Phoebe resumes cutting in secret. When handsome Shane Barnett “friends” Phoebe on Facebook, she’s thrilled; she doesn’t know he will become the catalyst for tragedy. By alternating perspectives among Isabel, Phoebe, Ron, and Sandy, Feely (Saving Norma Jean, 2016)   unearths motivations for each character’s contribution—intentional or accidental—to Phoebe’s distress. Even so, an excess of exposition (“Now, as she took another bite of the lemon custard, she thought about events that had transpired more than half a lifetime ago”) and didactic passages about psychology prevent readers from fully engaging with the characters. When the plot catches up to that fateful Monday, Feely cleverly switches perspectives, presenting fresh insights into events. The riveting final third of the book is satisfyingly realistic as characters grapple with the consequences of their actions. But the final resolution arrives too quickly and seems jarring.

A harrowing but uneven domestic drama that explores the web of interpersonal motivations and reactions surrounding a traumatic event.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9964395-6-5

Page Count: 425

Publisher: Upper Hand Press

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.


A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?