I’ve actually never played Never Have I Ever, but this book by Joshilyn Jackson leverages off an adult version of the game… unexpectedly played by a group of inebriated women – who (I felt) interestingly see themselves as wives and mothers, rather than independent beings. And yes, that’s a bit judge-y but all definitions of the ‘book club’ early on suggest it’s the club of mothers with young children. There’s a SEPARATE group for the mothers of teens. (Of course that is completely irrelevant, but just kinda weird for this middle-aged singleton.)
by Joshilyn Jackson
Published by Raven Books
on August 8th 2019
Source: NetGalley, Bloomsbury ANZ
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it--teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, her adorable infant son. And, of course, the steadfast and supportive Charlotte. But Amy's sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night.
Sultry and magnetic, Roux beguiles the group with her feral charm. She keeps the wine flowing and lures them into a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it's naughty, harmless fun. Only Amy knows better. Something wicked has come her way--a she-devil in a pricey red sports car who seems to know the terrible truth about who she is and what she once did.
When they're alone, Roux tells her that if she doesn't give her what she asks for, what she deserves, she's going to make Amy pay for her sins. One way or another.
To protect herself and her family and save the life she's built, Amy must beat the devil at her own clever game, matching wits with Roux in an escalating war of hidden pasts and unearthed secrets. Amy knows the consequences if she can't beat Roux. What terrifies her is everything she could lose if she wins.
This was probably a bit twistier than I expected and that was a very good thing as it could have been predictable. After all… we’ve seen, heard and watched it before.
Woman gets blackmailed with terrible secrets from her past.
A: Woman caves and pays but it doesn’t go well (OR)
B: Woman kills blackmailer, so it still doesn’t go well (for either of them).
This was a tad more complex with Amy constantly changing her mind about her approach to Roux and her demands; and even the seemingly-cynical Roux is startled by Amy’s defiance at times. She’s certainly far from the meek mother, housewife, friend and neighbour others see.
The story unfolds from Amy’s point of view and she’s a likeable character. Honest and blunt about her history, and thoughts and feelings now. It’s hard not to like her. She has a great relationship with her step-daughter, husband and son and it was kinda nice to see a healthy family environment in that respect, particularly given Amy’s history (and what came after).
We’re told of Amy’s youthful indiscretions pretty early on and – though terrible – she seems to have kinda accepted that it was a terrible accident (EITHER WAY!) and tried to move on. She’d acted out for a while but found a way to deal with the tragedy and guilt.
Of course Roux is unlikeable as Amy is likeable. She’s a complicated character though. Surprisingly honest in some ways, but not others. And then of course there’s her son who’s a bit of an enigma himself and surprisingly interested in Amy’s step-daughter.
Of course later… there IS another twist in her tale. We just don’t know that earlier. (So don’t go being smug like me and assume it was a bit anticlimactic!) #justsayin
I was probably a little underwhelmed (gobsmacked but underwhelmed) when it came to the eventual secrets we discover about Roux and her son, but although I struggled with the feasibility, I liked where Jackson took us in the end.
This book would be a great bookclub read as there are several moral / ethical dilemmas raised and I think it’d be interesting to see how readers felt and how their own histories and lives influence their perceptions or positions.
Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson was published in Australia by Bloomsbury and is now available.
I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.