Remember that time I read Cartwheel, a fictionalized account of the Amanda Knox case, and felt dirty and voyeuristic?
That’s kind of what I was afraid would happen when I read She’s Not There by Joy Fielding.
In May 2007, nearly 4-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from her room in a Portuguese resort while her parents had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Her siblings were asleep in the room with her.
To date, she hasn’t been found.
In She’s Not There, Caroline Shipley’s 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, was taken from her hotel room at a Mexican resort as her parents dined with friends downstairs. Her 5-year-old sister, Michelle, was asleep in the room with her at the time.
Fifteen years later, near the anniversary of the disappearance, Caroline receives a phone call from a 17-year-old who claims to be her missing daughter. This bombshell rips open all the old wounds and forces Caroline and her family to confront the things that happened all those years ago.
In the beginning of the book, I did get that uncomfortable feeling like I was getting enjoyment reading about the very real pain of the McCann family. But we soon moved past the actual abduction and onto the fallout from that night: the Shipleys’ divorce, the uncomfortable relationship Caroline has with her daughter Michelle, the complex relationship she has with her (horrible) mother, Mary, Caroline’s difficulties finding work as a teacher since her daughter’s disappearance and the portrayal of her in the media as a cold, distant, uptight woman.
She’s Not There becomes less about the abduction and more about the emotional toll it takes on the family. The phone call throws everything Caroline thinks she knows on its head and she is forced to confront truths she might not be ready for.
At the centre of the whole thing, of course, is the question: is this girl really Samantha?
I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would. It’s well-paced, trailing just enough breadcrumbs to feel like you are ahead of Fielding. Caroline is allowed to rage against her family, her ex-husband and the media who all have these ideas of Caroline as a terrible mother, a boring person, and an ice queen. I appreciated that all loose ends were tied up and I don’t need to track down other books in a new series.
This is the kind of book that deserves to be read beach-lake-or-pool-side with a cocktail. If you haven’t already read it, keep it in mind when you’re filling your summer totes.