by Chevy Stevens – I really like the premise of this book: an adopted woman looks for her birth mother and discovers a horrible secret, one that will put her and her entire family in danger. The secret? Her birth father is a killer. And when he finds out about her, he wants to move into her life… or take her into his. Never Knowing is told in the first person, from the point of view of that woman, Sara Gallagher. The book is set in modern-day Vancouver, British Columbia, with modern communications technology and all of the complications that implies when you’re trying to “take information back” once it gets out into the cyber world. The characters are, for the most part, engaging and interesting, and I cared what happened to most of them. There are plot twists that surprised me and left me eager to read “just one more chapter.” The plot, while not seamless, is fairly plausible and intriguing.
That said, the novel has some weaknesses that were big enough to distract me from the overall story. Here are a couple of them.
A few of the unpleasant/unsympathetic (from the reader’s POV) secondary characters are more stereotypes/role-players than fully fleshed-out characters. Their negative actions/reactions are wholly predictable for most of the novel, with a couple of surprising moments near the end, intended to make us understand change our opinions of them. Examples? The female detective, Sandy Reynolds, and Sara’s sister Melanie. Almost all of their interactions with Sara follow a preset pattern, because Stevens hasn’t given us any room in their characters for anything else. And these same characters are very hair-triggered (as is Sara), so their confrontations often seem to be over minor misunderstandings or misstatements. Now, this happens in real life sometimes, but novels are not supposed to be mirrors of reality and instead give the author room to shape their fictional world with nuance and subtlety, both of which are missing in many of the character interactions.
The other thing, actually the main thing, that yanked me out of the story (at the beginning of every chapter, without exception) was the format of the book. Stevens has Sara relay the events of the book as if she is telling them to her therapist in her sessions. Right off, this tell you the main character and the therapist are going to survive, so there goes some of the tension in the book. The intro paragraphs to each chapter have Sara talking directly to her therapist, who never seems to interrupt or have a voice at all. Oh, there are several times that Sara tells us something the therapist said in a previous session, but there’s no immediacy in it. Then, Sara narrates everything that has happened since the last session, or at least everything that relates to this case and Sara’s emotional/mental states. And narrates is the right word: the meat of each chapter reads like a 1st-person novel, not at all like a therapy session. The book would be so much stronger, so much more immediate, without this phony pretense.
Most importantly, I’m not sure I like Sara, the protagonist. She’s an emotional vampire: whiny and self-involved, panicky and prickly, stubborn and blind to other people’s problems, immature and, above all, so very, very aggrieved. Her entire life has been a struggle, worse than anyone else’s ever, and no one understands her. If she were a real person, I would not want to be friends with her. I think she would suck me dry, then move on to someone else, and she would trashtalk me to her new friends, to boot.
To be fair, there may be scads of people who will relate absolutely to Sara, who will see parts of themselves there and let themselves embrace her because of those very same things that I cannot. The fault may be with me and my own history of dealings with people like Sara. Or perhaps I see my own worst characteristics amplified in her and they make me uncomfortable. Or I could just prefer my protagonists to have a little more smartass in them, with a side helping of humor, even black humor.
So, my overall rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars, which Goodreads doesn’t allow, so I’ll round it up to 3 there. And disclosure time: I received a copy of this book free in a Goodreads.com First Reads giveaway.