Published by St. Martin's Griffin on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is an engaging story that follows two women, Amy Townsend and Sarah Walker, and how their lives become entwined because of one little girl, Amy’s five-year old daughter Emma. One day Sarah witnesses Amy behaving abusively toward Emma in the middle of a crowded airport. She can’t get the incident out of her mind and, when a chance encounter makes their paths cross again and Sarah realizes that Amy’s abusive behavior is a chronic pattern, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She convinces herself that she’s not really kidnapping Emma, but instead is rescuing her. As she sets her plan into motion, it raises the question of how far Sarah is really willing to go to make sure Emma is safe? How much is she willing to risk?
Sounds like an absolutely gripping read, right? I checked Goodreads and it has plenty of 4 and 5 star ratings, so lots of readers are loving this book. Sadly, I’m not one of them though so it looks like I’m going to have the Unpopular Opinion review, which is so disappointing because I really thought I would love this one.. I’m going to start with the good though because the book does have plenty of things going for it.
In spite of my overall low rating, there were a few things that I liked about Not Her Daughter, the first being that the author does tackle a very tough subject – kidnapping – and actually does so in a way that you can almost see where the kidnapping is justified. That, in itself, is quite a feat. She does this, of course, by making Emma’s home environment appear so completely unhealthy that you can’t help but wish that she could be removed from it. Her mother is clearly abusive, and her father seems to just sit back and let the abuse happen unchecked. She also has Sarah run through all of the horrible things about the foster care system as she is considering the best course of action to take to “save” Emma. Sarah comes to the conclusion that it would be so much better for Emma to just go with her because she appreciates how special Emma is and could love her as her own instead of just dumping her in the system. Not that I would ever condone kidnapping, but it surprised me how convincing the argument Sarah made really was. I could see this argument being a great starting point for a book club discussion – If you knew for a fact that a child was being abused, what lengths would you go to make sure that child was removed from harm’s way?
I also found it fascinating to have the story presented from the perspective of both Amy and Sarah. Being able to get inside their heads and see what each of them is thinking is probably the best part of the book. You get inside of Sarah’s head and understand that she comes from a background where she was abandoned by her mother when she was 8 and so it becomes clear why Emma’s experiences resonate with her to such an extreme. Even more fascinating, however, are when we get inside of Amy’s head and actually see some of the dark thoughts she has at any given moment, especially when she thinks about whether she even wants Emma to come home. It’s such a disturbing and non-maternal thing for a mother to think and it’s just a major WOW moment.
If you’re into stories with lots of suspense that will keep you turning the pages, Not Her Daughter really delivers in that area as well. There are plenty of twists and turns as Sarah tries to evade the authorities, and each twist just ratchets up the suspense that much more.
I think this is going to be a case of “It’s me, not necessarily the book” but I just had several issues with the book that made it not a good fit for me.
The first is that I just didn’t feel a real connection to any of the characters in this book. I definitely didn’t feel much of anything for Amy, her husband, or Sarah, and even though I felt very sympathetic toward Emma because of what she had gone through in her own house, I still just didn’t feel super connected to her. Honestly, I would have expected a book on this subject matter to move me to tears, but it didn’t at all. I just felt like a passive observer, and I’m not sure why – maybe it was the narrative style, I don’t know.
Another issue I had was that I just found some of the things that happened in the story to be farfetched. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m going to keep this vague but the ending in particular just seemed like something that would never actually happen and because it felt so unrealistic, I was left unsatisfied with the story as a whole.
Finally, what really took this book down a star for me, was how Amy was described throughout the book. I get it – she’s a horrible mother who probably never should have had children in the first place and everything about her is supposed to disgust me. But why do I need to know that she’s an overweight doughy woman who eats way too much cheese, is always gassy, and only poops about once a week? And why do I need flashbacks of her thinking about giving birth to her children and pushing them out of her “hairy vagina”? I’m all for vivid descriptions when they add something to the story, but those just felt unnecessary and distracting.
Even though Not Her Daughter wasn’t a good fit for me, I still think many readers will find it a powerful and riveting read. Because of the moral dilemma that Sarah faces, it’s definitely a book that will make you think.
Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.
Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.
Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.
Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.
Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?
Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.
Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.
As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?