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Thank you NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing an e-Arc in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: February 23rd, 2016

Synopsis: A lifetime ago, every year Carole Shipley looked forward to her wedding anniversary. But then a celebratory trip to Mexico for the occasion with with her husband and friends ended in the unsolved kidnapping of her infant daughter, Samantha. Now, fifteen years after that horrific time, divorced and isolated, Carole is forced to relive the kidnapping by reporters who call every year on the anniversary of Samantha’s disappearance. However, this year when the phone rings, Carole hears the sweet voice of a girl claiming to be her long-lost daughter. Plunged back into the world of heartbreak, suspicion and questions that led the case to run cold so many years ago, Carole doesn’t know who or what to believe. But when she she starts to figure it out, she finds the answers dangerously close to home.

As soon as I read the synopsis for She’s Not There, I was reminded of Madeleine McCann who disappeared from a resort in Portugal in 2007. Although there are similarities, Joy Fielding has created a fascinating story that examines family relationships in the wake of a tragedy, as well as how quick the media and public are quick to judge even when we don’t have all the facts.

The story primarily focuses on Carole, and jumps from the present to the past, 15 years previously, when young Samantha disappears from the family’s hotel room after she and her sister Mary are left alone while their parents have a celebratory dinner downstairs with their friends and family. Carole’s husband Hunter is the one who comes up with the brilliant idea of leaving the two small children alone after there’s a mysterious mix-up with the babysitter they booked. He talks his reluctant wife into the scheme, telling her they’ll take turns checking on the children every half hour. I know. You’re probably thinking: “Who in their right mind would do this?” I know I did, both with the McCann case and with this book, but honestly, how often are children left alone while a parent runs a quick errand? When I was a children’s librarian I was horrified at the number of times children under the age of six were left alone while the parents ran upstairs to check out books or even completely left the building to run a quick errand while their little one was participating in a program like storytime. You see, parents thought of the library as a “safe zone” and didn’t take into consideration that anyone could walk in. Anyway, I wound up feeling quite sympathetic toward Carole, who is trapped in a never-ending hell of guilt, depression and uncertainty. She didn’t want to leave her daughters alone to begin with, but because of all the time and expense her husband put into their anniversary, she goes against her better judgement. Adding to her difficulties is that the media and the public have passed judgement, and made her the scapegoat, while Hunter is pretty much given a pass. 

Except for Carole’s supportive and loyal friend Peggy, the rest of the characters are all pretty unlikable, including the remaining daughter Michelle. She was annoying even before her sister’s kidnapping, and grows even more so as the years pass. Her relationship with her mother is contentious, and while a lot of this is Carole’s fault, Michelle is also to blame. I found Hunter to be extremely one-dimensional and I wish the author had fleshed him out more. Carole’s brother, Steve and her mother Mary are horrible, and this helps explain some of Carole’s poor decisions.

There are two mysteries here. The first is what really happened that night, and the second is whether or not the sweet teenager who contacts Carole in the present, is truly the long-lost Samantha. Both questions are satisfactorily answered at the end of the book. While I wasn’t surprised at the identity of the villain, I was at my emotional response of fury, that had me longing to leap into the book to throttle them!

Overall, She’s Not There is a perfect example of why Joy Fielding is so popular as a writer of psychological suspense. If you’re a fan of writers such as Mary Higgins Clark, and Lisa Gardner, I highly recommend this. It’s a page-turner that I wound up finishing in one sitting.