Book: “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little
Publishing Info: Viking, July 2014
Where Did I Get this Book: I own it.
Book Description from Goodreads: As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.
Oh, I thought I was so clever.
But you probably already know that I’m not.
LA It Girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.
Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.
She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?
Review: Two years ago, Serena and I (and a few of our near and dear library friends) took a trip out to the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many happy memories, valuable lessons, and crazy stories to whip out at cocktail parties were cultivated there, but one of the best aspects was having access to many, many books. And a number of these books were ARC copies of upcoming (as of June 2014) publications. In the flurry and excitement, I got a copy of “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little. And then it sat on my bookshelf until, oh, three days ago. It was always there, waiting patiently, and I knew that I was going to get to it eventually. Which I finally did.
Boy oh boy is Janie Jenkins an unlikable person! That’s the first thing I noticed about this book. Janie joins the ranks of anti-heroine protagonists who have started flooding thriller fiction, who have more baggage than a fully booked Boeing. This time we have Janie, who has just been released from prison on a technicality. She was convicted of murdering her mother ten years prior, and even though she’s out no one actually believes that she’s innocent. After all, she spent a lot of her teenage years making headlines for courting controversy while her nouveau riche mother just let it happen (usually with cutting insults and cruelty). She’s earned the chip on her shoulder, but then, it sounds as thought she’s always been this way, even before her stint in the slammer. I suppose that I should be happy that we are getting more realized female protagonists who neither virgins nor whores, but the trope is kind of overstaying it’s welcome. That said, I did like Janie, at least for how entertaining that she was and how delightfully bitchy she was. Sometimes I like watching a crazy train wreck character, usually if he or she makes me laugh.
I was pleasantly surprised that I liked a lot of the side characters almost as much as I liked(?) Janie. I feel like it’s sometimes really easy to just have side characters fulfill minimal plot progressions, or be people that the main character can bounce off of, especially in thrillers like this one. But many of the side characters were enjoyable, and I liked getting information about all of them. It’s true that sometimes they were a little two dimensional, but the small town connections meant that everyone had some association with each other and made way for good interactions. One character I especially liked was Leo, the town cop that is on to Janie as she makes her way through the town history in an effort to figure out who she is. He was certainly abrasive, and probably would be considered problematic in how they interacted with each other, but I liked that he gave Janie a run for her money when it came to her nastiness.
This book also could be classified as partially epistolary, as some of the story is told in texts, news reports, blog posts, and other forms of correspondence, which really worked in this book. The notoriety of Janie Jenkins in this world makes her a prime target for gossip sites and bloodthirsty news organizations, and getting that whole other side of the story as the paparazzi closes in on her was great and effective at building the tension. For me the best mystery was the identity of one of the obsessed and relentless bloggers that was hounding Janie and convinced of her guilt, as the way that he was harassing her and practically stalking her made me very uncomfortable. I like being uncomfortable when I read books like this.
My main critique with this book is some of the dialogue that Little gave to Janie, be it outward or inner monologue. There were a number of times that I actually rolled my eyes because it went from being slick and snide to overdone and overcompensating. I’m sure that it was very over the top to show just how snarky and wicked she is, and that was hard to stomach because of the ham fisted way that it skewed a good amount of the time. I get it. She’s unpleasant and mean but vulnerable too. No need to oversell the point.
“Dear Daughter” was a book that I practically couldn’t put down, and I really wish that I’d thought to pick it up sooner. I hope that Elizabeth Little keeps writing thrillers, because this was a zippy read that I would definitely recommend to those who like books in the genre. Consider me a Janie Jenkies supporter through and through, and I think that I wouldn’t be the only one.
Rating 7: A solid mystery and an interesting protagonist, but sometimes on the nose and unsubtle with its dialogue.
“Dear Daughter” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Books for Serial Podcast Lovers” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’, You Might Also Like…”
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