In Leatherman’s (Vanity Insanity, 2014) novel, an Omaha, Nebraska, high school teacher uncovers danger on campus as she grapples with challenges in her personal life.
Reeling from her ex-husband’s remarriage, Annie Day is distressed by the idea that her American dream has been tarnished. As the single parent of a son, Oliver, she certainly has her hands full. But when human bones are discovered on the high school campus where she teaches American literature, she faces a new set of worries. While police work to establish whose bones they are, she starts receiving strange, upsetting notes, including one that simply reads, “BE CAREFUL.” She finds refuge in her classroom, supporting her students by working with them after school, preparing them for college entrance exams, and helping them to relate class materials to their own lives. The mystery of the bones ultimately links to disturbing criminal activity at the high school. Readers will root for Annie and enjoy her inner dialogue, which features her disdain for poor grammar and her fondness for murder-mystery TV shows, especially Dateline. At points, though, the main story drifts. The novel features several side plots, such as Annie’s search for a ghost that she encountered on vacation and her attempt to deliver a letter she finds in the attic, revealing a shocking family secret of the house’s previous owners. Additionally, there are several chapters from the perspective of Annie’s cowboy relatives in the 1930s, relating a saga that’s intriguing enough to have been its own novel; however, they don’t directly enhance Annie’s story, which is strong enough without them. Leatherman’s prose is often excellent, as in a humorous, memorable scene during parent-teacher conference day, when a hungry Annie mentally compares parents’ personalities to snacks: an overbearing couple is undercooked dough, a saucy mother is a sour cherry ball, a sweet grandmother is cinnamon toast. The author tackles the main mystery plot with poignancy at the end of the story, but more in-depth exploration throughout would have been interesting.
An often gripping work with an engaging protagonist.