While Jenny’s life is extremely busy with her career as a physician, twin sons Ed and Theo, and their younger sister Naomi, she couldn’t be happier with the path she and her husband Ted, a neurosurgeon, have chosen for their family and marriage. When fifteen-year-old Naomi disappears one night, seemingly leaving not a clue behind, Jenny is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her life, her children, and her ability to understand and take care of her family.
As I read this novel, I couldn’t help but get pulled in by the characters and the story Shemilt created. There is definitely a thriller-like aspect to The Daughter – what happened to Naomi is the central theme throughout the book and everything else kind of spins around that axis. I found myself furiously turning pages, desperate to find out Naomi’s whereabouts and hopeful that Jenny would get some answers and that her beautiful, young, smart daughter with so much ahead of her would come home safely.
While the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, and my initial response to the novel was that I enjoyed the ride it gave me, if I was a bit ambivalent of the some of the characters and their choices, after thinking about it some more I have to admit to feeling more lukewarm about the book. I think the major issue I have is that I don’t love the way Jenny was portrayed in the book. It’s a delicate balance for a writer to handle a working mother with respect and grace, and I think that in general Shemilt did an okay job with that, but I did feel somewhat uncomfortable by parts of the book. For one, Jenny goes from feeling extremely confident that she knows her children better than anyone to feeling extremely guilty about her work schedule and almost blaming herself and her decision to work full-time for Naomi’s disappearance. While I understand that working mothers go through complicated emotions about their choices (just as stay-at-home mothers do), the vast up-and-down of her emotions around work/life balance felt inauthentic to me.
Also there were a few points throughout the novel where it felt like outsiders were almost blaming Jenny’s choice to work for her daughter’s choices and ultimately her disappearance. What about Naomi’s father’s choices? What about the fact that Jenny was modeling how to have a successful career AND a family for her sons and daughter? I wished more mention of these aspects of a working parents’ life would have been in the book, instead it was all about the guilt Jenny felt and about the complete lack of guilt her husband felt (who worked a tremendous amount more than Jenny).
I’m also not sure how believable the ending was. What happened to Naomi is entirely possible, of course, but the way the whole thing came together just didn’t ring true for me.
What I did like was the way the story was told – Shemilt takes the reader back and forth from before and right after Naomi disappeared to a year or so later, in alternating chapters. Jenny narrates the whole thing, so you have a general idea of what happened to Naomi based on some things she says in the later portions, but it’s pretty ambiguous. The format definitely kept me on my toes. And I think Shemilt did a good job with the whodunit factor – I wasn’t sure what the heck was going on with this teenager and it could have gone a few different ways at a few points throughout the book.
While I had a few issues with The Daughter, I thought it was a decent thriller, one that at least kept me turning pages very quickly. I didn’t love it but I know others did so if this is your thing, give it a try and decide for yourself.