Friday 25 May 2018

My Mother's Secret by Sanjida Kay

Review by Greenacre Writer Carol Sampson

My Mother’s Secret is told through three characters: Lizzie, Emma and Stella.

Lizzie fell pregnant and married Paul Bradshaw before she had the opportunity to complete her degree. When their son, Dylan, is six months old Lizzie decides to take a part-time job in Leeds, leaving Paul and Dylan at home in the Lake District for part of the week while she earns money to contribute to their limited finances and studies to complete her degree.

While in Leeds she witnesses a serious crime which ultimately defines her future.

There was a sickening thud, like the sound of a cricket bat hitting a watermelon, and Arjun screamed. The boy gave a cry. She ran to him, her fingers slipping from her phone. But she was too late.

Emma, wife to Jack and mother to eleven year old Ava and fourteen year old Stella is anxious, bordering on neurotic, where the safety of her family is concerned. She has all the family’s daily activities scheduled with everyone notified of each other’s whereabouts. Every day she escorts the children to and from school and any activities they have.

On a family outing at the weekend Emma becomes distracted while taking photos and Jack, Ava and Stella wander off. Suddenly, realising they are no longer there, Emma’s paranoia takes hold.

“I can’t see them…There’s no sign of them, no sign that anyone else even passed this way. I start screaming their names, over and over, the names of my family, my loved ones, the people I cannot live without. My heart is beating so hard it’s painful.”

Stella, a feisty teenager, finds her mother’s behaviour stifling. She is eager to gain independence and cannot understand why she is denied the freedom permitted to her peers.

“It’s embarrassing to have to wait for your mum at my age, and be in charge of an annoying little sister. I keep telling Mum we should get the bus, but she says she likes picking us up.”

When her mother’s time-keeping starts to become erratic - showing up late to collect them from school and arriving home late from work - Stella suspects something is not right.

“I can't remember my unspontaneous mother ever doing anything without notifying us in triplicate.

As she determines to find out why her mother is distracted and behaving out of character Stella uncovers secrets that threaten the stability of their very comfortable family life.

My Mother’s Secret is a well written novel which, although not a page-turner, draws the reader in to the lives of the characters making it difficult to put down. Sanjida Kay has created three very distinct voices in Lizzie, Emma and Stella drawing on their vulnerabilities to enhance empathy. It is through their complex characters that issues of morality, responsibility, identity and loyalty are tested.

Initially the timeline is confusing with respect to Lizzie but as the story unravels, her connection with Emma and Stella becomes clear. Kay has captured the voice of Stella brilliantly: the recalcitrant teenager who is desperate to grow up but becomes unnerved when faced with adult issues requiring responsible decisions. Extremely intelligent she realises when she is out of her depth and struggles to cope with the threat her mother poses to the family.

The short chapters and alternating voices make for easy reading as the story meanders through a minefield of revelations - some of which are predictable; some not quite so. It is certainly a thought-provoking story that poses the question: what would I do in those circumstances?

A very enjoyable read.

Thank you Sanjida Kay and Corvus at Atlantic Books for the review copy.

You can follow Sanjida Kay on Twitter: @SanjidaKay

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