On the cover of my copy of Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly, Ms. Gardner has been quoted as saying the following:
“Riveting! Daly plunges straight into the heart of every parents’ worst nightmare with page-turning results.”
I won’t lie, I was immediately turned off from the book and I hadn’t even gotten to the dedication page. I hate cliches. Or at the least I should clarify, I hate being made so painfully aware of them.
My issues came with the phrase “page-turning”, the subject of “every parents’ worst nightmare” and the title (we’ll deal with that last). My concerns were that this would be an obvious layup. Sure, I’d get through it quickly, but would it be anything other than a lazily inspired, obvious child abduction story? Even though I don’t have kids (I can barely take care of myself), that’s an easy emotional chord to pluck.
The answer to that question above… Yes.
It’s almost impossible, if you have a heart of any size, to not get wrapped up right away in Lisa Kallisto’s plight—the overwhelmed parent with a marital secret, too much work, too many pets, three kids, not enough time and not enough money. On the other side of things is Kate (Lisa’s friend, the mom in the neighborhood that everyone simultaneously is in love with, jealous of, and secretly hates a little bit). The action kicks off when Sally (Lisa’s daughter) calls to inform her mom that Lucinda (Kate’s daughter and Sally’s pal) has gone missing.
The twist (or at least, the first one)? Sally and Lucinda were supposed to have a sleepover the night prior, but in the whirlwind Lisa knows as life she forgot to call Kate to tell her Sally wasn’t going to be going into school that day. Sleepover off, but do you know where your daughter is?
As the search rages on, we learn about the lives of the several families in this small England town, how they intertwine and the secrets they all withhold.
Honestly, I’d rather not tell you much more than that. I guess that gives away that there’s a surprise ending, but if there wasn’t a surprise ending, that would probably be the biggest surprise of all, no? Sorry, let’s leave the meta nonsense alone.
The story is told from three perspectives, which while strange on a technical narrative level, is necessary for the furthering of the plot. Of course, you get Lisa’s first person account of what’s going on. You also get, just frequently enough to wet your whistle, a perfectly creepy and vague third person account from the perp. Finally, there’s third person chapters detailing Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall and the steps taken by the police.
With all the back and forth, you’re never quite sure who is one step ahead of whom… are the police finally going to crack the case? Is Lisa getting in the way or providing the key piece of evidence? Is this guy going to get away with it?
And despite all of these enjoyable elements (FINE, it is a page-turner. Happy?), some of my favorite parts of the book were the small asides where Daly took time to consider the minutia of life many authors (myself including) tend to forget. And you know what, you could forgive that in a book spanning only a few days in a harrowing search to find an abducted young girl.
Quick paragraphs about how much Lisa’s sons love the Super Mario Brothers or the two female admins at the police station giggling over Christmas decorations in the office keep things from being suffocatingly heavy, even though that’s all you want the further you get into the story.
Perhaps Daly’s greatest feat with this book, despite my internal (and ignorant) issues, is the title. The book’s about a child being abducted, so the answer to the question, “Just what kind of mother are you?” seems fairly obvious, wouldn’t you say?