Kindle Edition, 384 pages
In high school Toni Murphy becomes the target of relentless bullying. Shauna and her tribe of mean girls keep Toni watching over her shoulder, wondering where they’ll strike next. Everything — from going to work to attending a school dance — are fraught with anxiety. Bullies make ones world much smaller.
Toni’s relationships with her parents and younger sister Nicole are strained, and she becomes increasingly angry and rebellious. She finds solace in her time with her boyfriend, Ryan.
One summer night, she and Ryan take Nicole to a party. Nicole is brutally murdered. Toni and Ryan are convicted of the murder and — at the age of twenty — sent to prison.
At thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown. She tries to focus on the future, but a series of unfortunate events, including another murder, make it difficult to move forward. Toni needs to find out what really happened that night. Maybe, after all these years, she’ll finally be exonerated and she and Ryan can be together.
Alternating storylines comprise the first half of this novel. One thread is about Toni’s high school years leading up to the night of Nicole’s death. In these portions the author skillfully creates a teenager’s narrative voice, and it feels like a young adult novel. Young Toni is difficult to like, and her character isn’t explored in as much depth as I’d hoped. But the story is sufficiently compelling and well told that I found it impossible not to empathize with the girl and root for her. And many of Toni’s reactions — angrily lashing out at family members then blaming them for the argument — felt like bona fide adolescent behavior. I remember. I was a teen once.
The second thread is about Toni’s life behind bars. In the brutal milieu of prison, her girlish bravado turns to hardened rage. Then she gradually develops genuine perseverance and courage. In the second half of the book, which I found the most enthralling, these storylines merge and we see what happens after Toni is paroled. I admired the author’s portrayal of her return to the outside. Toni is caught between her yearning for freedom and her terror of coping with the real world. Everything — even ordering a cup of coffee — is overwhelming. Using her experience working in the prison kitchen and her love of dogs, Toni begins to build a new life. At this point, my esteem for her skyrockets when she adopts a rescued pit bull. 🙂
This is a major risk for Toni — Captain gives her companionship and comfort. But it also means she has something to lose.
Eventually the truth about what happened that night is revealed. Much of it unfolds as the reader would have expected, but the author introduces a twist. I’d actually guessed the twist early in the book. But based on other reviews I’ve read, many readers had the pleasure of being surprised. 🙂
This was a quick, entertaining read with an interesting exploration of bullying and life as a convict. This novel will be a hit with many readers — both adults and teens — who enjoy psychological thrillers.