Title: Just What Kind of Mother Are You?
Author: Paula Daly
Review: Lisa Kallisto is an over-worked, under paid, harried mother of three with a full time job caring for unwanted pets whilst running a family home. Her husband, Joe, works as a self-employed taxi driver, and like most people, they spend their days juggling their responsibilities and trying to make ends meet. But their everyday chaotic lives screech to a halt when Lisa overlooks something, and the end result is that a child goes missing. Not her child, but her best friend’s daughter, she disappears on Lisa’s watch
If you like psychological thrillers, then Just What Kind of Mother are You? is a novel you should take notice of. It’s a great read just for enjoyment’s sake (Daly will keep you hooked from beginning to end), but it’s also incredibly thought-provoking. The author balances well between the thriller storyline and introspection and personal development of the characters. This means it’s multifaceted and will intrigue the reader on multiple levels.
Lisa is an incredibly sympathetic character in Just What Kind of Mother are You? There are times the reader wants to shake her because it’s clear she’s overwhelmed and needs help but doesn’t know how to ask for it. As a result, she makes mistakes in her parenting and misses things that, as a mother, she really shouldn’t. However, the reader can’t judge her because it’s understandable; being a working mother is difficult. And when it comes to stress, we’ve all been there. Set in the Lake District in the run up to Christmas, the community arranges search parties in the frozen landscape whilst Lisa desperately tries to make things right. As the festive season approaches, Lisa begins investigating and in doing so, peels away the layers of her town and closest friends and discovers the secrets and dark truths that lurk beneath.
The twist (or at least, the first one)? Sally and Lucinda were supposed to have a sleepover the night prior, but in the whirlwind Lisa knows as life she forgot to call Kate to tell her Sally wasn’t going to be going into school that day. Sleepover off, but do you know where your daughter is? As the search rages on, we learn about the lives of the several families in this small England town, how they intertwine and the secrets they all withhold.
As a result, the reader becomes completely involved with Lisa’s storyline, and when Lucinda goes missing, they can feel her pain, her anger at herself, her disbelief that this could have happened on her watch. She feels responsible—and it’s easy to see why—yet it’s not her fault. The title of the book applies on different levels; readers will be continually revaluating what it means as the novel progresses. There’s also a parallel storyline in Just What Kind of Mother are You: the fact that other girls have gone missing, and the personal story of the woman investigating these crimes. Daly ties these multiple plotlines together very well. It’s well-written, gripping, and provides a lot of discussion points, making this a perfect book club pick for the fall.
It’s almost impossible, if you have a heart of any size, to not get wrapped up right away in Lisa Kallisto’s plight—the overwhelmed parent with a marital secret, too much work, too many pets, three kids, not enough time and not enough money. On the other side of things is Kate (Lisa’s friend, the mom in the neighbourhood that everyone simultaneously is in love with, jealous of, and secretly hates a little bit). The action kicks off when Sally (Lisa’s daughter) calls to inform her mom that Lucinda (Kate’s daughter and Sally’s pal) has gone missing.
But I loved this book. It’s a page turner from the start and one that I struggled to put down. The characters are simply wonderful, totally identifiable and full of snappy dialogue. The narrative shifts between first person and third person, between that of Lisa Kallisto and Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall as she works on the case. It gives the book a rapid pace and a real sense of urgency grips the reader with little time for idyll words.
The story is told from three perspectives, which while strange on a technical narrative level, is necessary for the furthering of the plot. Of course, you get Lisa’s first person account of what’s going on. You also get, just frequently enough to wet your whistle, a perfectly creepy and vague third person account from the perp. Finally, there are third person chapters detailing Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall and the steps taken by the police. And despite all of these enjoyable elements some of my favourite parts of the book were the small asides where Daly took time to consider the minutia of life many authors (myself including) tend to forget. And you know what, you could forgive that in a book spanning only a few days in a harrowing search to find an abducted young girl. Quick paragraphs about how much Lisa’s sons love the Super Mario Brothers or the two female admins at the police station giggling over Christmas decorations in the office keep things from being suffocating heavy, even though that’s all you want the further you get into the story. Perhaps Daly’s greatest feat with this book, despite my internal (and ignorant) issues, is the title. The book’s about a child being abducted, so the answer to the question, “Just what kind of mother are you?” seems fairly obvious, wouldn’t you say?
The combination made the book a complete joy to read. The change in narrative kept me enthralled as the plot unfolded and took me to the very edge of my seat, keeping me gripped right to the very end. But it is the overall theme of this book that resonates most with me, as a working mother myself, with a busy family and home life I found myself sympathizing with Lisa more than once and as desperate as her to find a resolution. I imagine we might well see this on the screen at some point in the future.
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