Things We Didn’t Say: A Novel by Kristina Riggle (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 352 pages)
As with her first novel, Real Life and Liars, Kristina Riggle presents an interesting story with well-defined characters in her recently released novel, Things We Didn’t Say.
Casey (Edna Leigh Casey) is attempting to reinvent herself while erasing her past by delving into a new relationship with her fiancé Michael and his three children. While taking on her new role of step-mother-to-be, she believes she has escaped her former alcoholic life and the tragedy in her past that she still blames herself for. That is, until her challenging teenage future stepdaughter Angel finds Casey’s personal journal and discovers the details of Casey’s past and her feelings about her current frustrations with taking on the role of stepmother. This realization, combined with recent distance from her controlling, workaholic fiancé, leads to her decision to leave her current situation and – once again – start over. However, on the very day that Casey decides to leave she receives a call that Michael’s son Dylan has gone missing.
The search for Dylan takes Casey, Michael, his children, and ex-wife on an emotionally charged journey that will change how each of them perceives their current situation.
Riggle writes with extreme clarity and develops her characters with variable dialogue that provide each of them with their own identity. Each character’s challenges and reactions to a family crisis are believable, although a bit extreme, while presented in a modern-day blended family scenario. Riggle also presents realistic themes such as the dangers of online communication and the prevalence of runaway teens.
However, as much as I enjoyed her writing, I have to admit that for most of the story I found the adults in her novel to be unlikable. Casey is a meek, insecure individual who allows her fiancé to make all the decisions and accepts his criticism with silence, even when boundaries are crossed with his crazy ex-wife Mallory. Michael is self-absorbed and so focused on the legality of child custody that he allows and even instigates ridiculous behavior from Mallory. And Mallory is the stereotypical example of a woman with a horrid past experiencing bouts of mental illness. I found myself entranced in the novel, hoping for a miracle that would give the children some sense of “normalcy” in their lives.
But that said, I found the book entertaining and the characters begin to redeem themselves as the story unfolds; and Riggle begins to fashion a more realistic view of a blended family undergoing a family crisis. I have to commend Riggle for presenting her view of the possible and probable challenges that families in an atypical family structure might face.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Things We Didn’t Say was released on June 28, 2011.