When a bully turns into a target, it’s hard to know whom to blame. And, as this twisty debut demonstrates, whom to believe.
Murder and suicide don’t make for an auspicious entrée into motherhood, but that’s how Rebecca becomes the caretaker of her late best friend’s daughter, Callie, when the girl is only 4. Frankel introduces us to this odd little family nine years later, as teenage Callie’s face goes up on a billboard next to a pointed question: “Do you know your children?” The answer isn’t a mystery (spoiler: no), but we spend the rest of the book retracing Rebecca’s and Callie’s steps to find out why not. A lonely dental hygienist with insomnia and an awkward budding romance, Rebecca means well but lacks the intuition to see through Callie’s lies about the misery her school life has become. Callie blames Robyn, an unpopular girl in her class, for the trouble Callie and her friends have been getting into. Rebecca’s version of support looks like willing gullibility, driven by her insecurity about playing the role of mom: “I had never been a great one at connecting the dots,” she tells us, and we soon find out she’s not being modest. As she peels away the layers of Callie’s story, much of which is revealed through instant messages and texts between the girls, Rebecca discovers that her worst fears about herself and her young charge are depressingly accurate. It seems clear that we ought to root for Rebecca and Callie, but it’s much less apparent if their redemption is even an option.
Hell hath no misery like a mean girl scorned.