Don’t play games you can’t afford to lose.
We all know them. Those pushy people who come into established groups such as book clubs and attempt to impress themselves upon everybody in the room immediately upon entering. They seek to change the agendas without any prior knowledge of the practices of the group. We loathe those people, right? So does Amy Whey when brash Roux, new tenant from the rubbish rental on the corner, pushes her way into the street book club meeting held in Amy’s basement. Roux has trouble written all over her and it only takes the newcomer one night to wreak utter havoc in Amy’s previously comfortable life.
Roux has an axe to grind against Amy and it does not take long before the two women are at loggerheads. Amy has a secret from her teenage years that would not paint her in the best light to her book club friends, let alone her husband and co-parent who is completely in the dark as to the extent of Amy’s reinvention of herself further on from those troubled years. How far is Roux prepared to de-rail Amy’s life and why has she only appeared now? Amy, a new mother, has no intention of rolling over for blackmail or any other kind of intimidation. Roux’s rules of engagement are not acceptable and there is way too much at stake.
Never Have I Ever employs the flashbacks of Amy’s Florida childhood and passages of current day narrative (the present day scenes oddly British in tone for a novel set in the USA) to flesh out a story that starts out comfortable and familiar, then ricochets off down darker paths.
Cat and mouse games between parents, ie those who have everything to lose, are always nail bitingly tense to read of and Never Have I Ever very much makes this a two-horse race. There are other characters who complicate the motivations of each woman, but essentially it is the scruples of one pitted against the scruples of the other. Neither Amy or Roux are willing to back down and use all the weapons in their arsenal in order to eradicate the threat of the other.
There is the reader’s inkling that this novel could have been a tighter read for the removal of some domestic filler, and ‘action’ scenes such as when Amy is diving could have been amplified to ramp up the tension – deep water, sharks, etc – and so it did feel like there were some missed dramatic opportunities. Or perhaps just more could have been written about diving as it is always an interesting subject to find out more about.
Never Have I Ever takes a little more time with fleshing out its players and is subsequently a richer read for this. The lighter opening evolves into a more realized character study of both the teenage Amy and the adult Amy, plus the embodiment of contradictions that is her worthy adversary in Roux the grifter. The reader needs to invest in the potential outcomes of both women, not just those of the woman being blackmailed ie Amy, and truly want to see who triumphs over who by novel’s end. A thriller with a bit more thought before the action is a more absorbing read when the motivations are not that simple.
Joshilyn Jackson lives in Georgia, USA. She is also an audiobook narrator, performing most of her own works as well as narrating the novels of other authors.
For more of Andy Thompson’s book reviews, check out AustCrimeFiction
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- I Always Find You (John Ajvide Lindqvist) – book review
- In the Clearing (J.P. Pomare) – book review
- A Nearly Normal Family (M. T. Edvardsson) – book review
Australian Crime Fiction began in 2006 to provide a database of crime authors and books from Australasia in the crime genre. Now featuring book reviews, the site is dedicated to crime fiction and thrillers, with a heavy emphasis on Australian and New Zealand content.