Published by St. Martin's Press on August 8, 2017
From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back...
One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn't add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister's return might just be the beginning of the crime.
I read young adult literature almost exclusively, but whenever I re-open my Book of the Month subscription, I tend to gravitate toward their thriller selection. My favorites are domestic thrillers, the ones that really screw with your head, but I can also get behind a solid plain-Jane thriller as well. I apparently selected Emma In the Night back in September 2017, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I kept trying to pick up a contemporary YA at the end of November, but nothing was sticking when I threw it against the wall. So I blew the metaphorical dust off a neglected shelf in my living room, and decided to give Emma a chance.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Emma In the Night is about family, but not like you see on Parenthood and smile sweetly. Emma contains deeply flawed, inherently terrible people who just happen to be related in some capacity or another – sort of like if everyone on Arrested Development was the actual worst in all the non-fun ways.
Three years ago, Emma and Cass disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to these girls – Emma barely out of high school and Cass a sophomore – but based on their mother’s hysteria, we assume it was not exactly good. Our story is told in alternating POVs, between Cass – Emma’s younger, less-appreciated sister – and Abby – the forensic psychologist in charge of the case at hand. And it begins, most notably, with Cass’s homecoming as she knocks on the door of her mother and stepfather’s home in the wee hours of the morning, bursts into tears, and screeches that they have to find Emma.
It is slowly revealed that Emma is still in the place Cass escaped from – an island somewhere off the coast of Maine where the girls were held unwitting prisoners for nearly three years. Cass was able to escape the clutches of their captors, but Emma is still stuck there due to extenuating circumstances. While Cass tells these stories over and over – to her mother, her father, her stepfather and stepbrothers and the police – there is doubt sparkling in the eyes of the listeners. But she passes all the psychology panels with flying colors – maybe she’s telling the truth about all of this. But Abby Winters has doubts, and she’s going to draw her conclusions soon, before it’s too late and Emma is gone forever.
The Bottom Line
To quote the great 3OH!3, “don’t trust a ho, never trust a ho, won’t trust a ho, won’t trust me.” Every single human being in this story is a damn dirty liar, POV character or not. They all have something to hide, and they are all assholes. Every single solitary person. Seriously. I don’t think anyone, except maybe Emma and Cass’s half-brother Witt, is a redeemable or nice person. This book made a pit-stop at the bus station for Jerkville and picked up its entire cast of characters right there.
If you like books with unreliable, douchey narrators, then you’ll like Emma In the Night. If you can’t stand that and want a narrator who seems stable and you can trust, you probably don’t want to read this. This isn’t the longest book in the world – 308 pages go pretty quickly in a thriller – but I can’t say in good conscience it’s in my top 10, or even 20, thrillers of all time. It’s a nice change of pace from the now-hackneyed “husband and wife have a perfect marriage OH WAIT NO THEY DON’T OH SHIT!“ plot that our bookstores are filled with these days, and so for that I definitely can’t fault it. But will I remember this plot in a year? Nah.
Pick this one up for free, but don’t invest money in it – go get a copy of The Wife Between Us instead.
“What I have come to know about death is that it is not like that. It is not fair. It does not add up your cigarettes and drinks and irresponsible behavior and come for you when you’ve reached your quota. People die all the time who were very good, very responsible. And people stay alive to the bitter end of their natural lives who were very bad and who did very bad things.”