A Mother Never Lies
Standalone or series
First time reading this author?
Why I picked this
It sounded interesting.
Review copy or purchase
Thank you to the author, publishers HQ and online book club The Pigeonhole for the chance to read this for free. This is an honest and voluntary review.
What it’s about
Fourteen years ago Phoebe gave her son Charlie up for adoption. Now she wants him back, but he cannot know the real reason she left him.
All Phoebe wants is to be reunited with her son. She gave 3-year-old Charlie up for adoption during a particularly traumatic time in her life. She’s written to him twice a year, living on the promise that his adoptive family would share the letters with him. But, she knows she’s not allowed to contact him. He’s now 17, and the choice of whether to get in touch is his. Once he turns 18 he can request her contact information. Phoebe can’t wait that long. She’s returned to her parents’ home, and knowing only that Charlie was adopted locally she waits outside secondary schools in the area hoping to at least be able to see him.
It’s clear from the start that there’s something the reader isn’t being told, and that Phoebe is an unreliable narrator, skirting around what happened, revealing only that her husband died and that there was another child. Her own parents are aging thespians who never achieved the success they dreamed of and were clearly not the most supportive or involved influences on her life.
Phoebe’s choices as she inserts herself into Charlie’s life (he now goes by Ben) are definitely questionable. But, unlike some other unreliable narrator led stories I’ve read recently, the writing in A Mother Never Lies meant that I had sympathy for Phoebe, I cared about what happened to her instead of being annoyed by what she did. It takes skill to deliver a sense of drama and to have characters making the wrong decision while driving the plot forward, but without losing the reader, author Sarah Clarke manages this balance very well.
I really enjoyed that we get to see things from Charlie/Ben’s perspective too. Life with his adopted family isn’t perfect, his sister Rosie is the biological child and everything she does is perfect, whereas Ben just never quite fits in. He tries hard at school, but still fails the exam; he works hard at his after school job, the one his parents pushed him to get, and then they say he’s spending too much time there. He gets angry, frustrated, and generally feels lost and alone. Again, even when he makes the wrong decision the context is well-established and I felt nothing but sympathy for this boy approaching manhood dealing with a trauma his adoptive parents seem to think can best be dealt with by ignoring.
It’s clear from early on that there is not going to be a joyful reunion when Ben finds out the truth about who Phoebe is, but the conclusion is a really satisfying pay-off for everything that the characters have been through. Great stuff.