After a mild-mannered family-dramedy debut (The Arrivals, 2011), Moore gets way more intense in a novel that mingles the stories of a cyberbullied high school student, a guilt-ridden archivist and an Irish maid in the 1920s.
It’s unusual for a 13-year-old to be poking around the Massachusetts Archives, especially since she’s come to Boston on the bus all the way from Newburyport. But what really attracts Kathleen Lynch’s attention to Natalie Gallagher is that the girl reminds Kathleen of her own daughter Susannah, who got involved in drugs and vanished just before graduating from high school some 10 years ago. Natalie’s under pressure too; Kathleen sees a vaguely threatening text on the girl’s dropped cell phone, and we quickly learn that Natalie is being bullied by her former BFF Hannah Morgan and Hannah’s new pal, the extremely nasty Taylor Grant. Natalie’s mother, who’s gone practically catatonic since her husband moved out, is in no shape to protect her daughter, and Kathleen’s well-meaning attempts to help backfire. A second plot unfolds in the notebook Natalie found in the basement of her family’s house and brought to the Archives; it details Bridget O’Connell’s experiences in 1925-1926 as a maid to Newburyport’s Turner family. Moore’s storytelling skills are evident as the tension builds on both fronts. Bridget suffers demeaning treatment from Mrs. Turner and winds up in bed with Dr. Turner, with disastrous consequences. Taylor’s persecution escalates, and Natalie feels increasingly isolated as her mother buries herself in work, her father takes a vacation with his new girlfriend, and Kathleen is distracted by a friend whose lover is caught in the Haitian earthquake. Moore is equally skillful in capturing the class tensions of the early 20th century and the scary cruelty of teenage girls amplified by 21st-century technology.
The final pages dangle a plethora of loose ends, but they’re unlikely to bother readers gripped by the novel’s strong emotional content.