Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review: "The Night Olivia Fell" by Christina McDonald

The Night Olivia Fell surprised me. So often when I read thrillers there certainly are twists and turns to contend with, but it's rare that I find one that touches me emotionally as well. This one did, which made it richer than a simple thriller.

No one wants the phone to ring in the middle of the night. But Abi Knight is roused from sleep and receives the call no mother wants to hear—her teenage daughter, Olivia, has fallen from a bridge. When Abi arrives at the hospital she learns the full, horrible truth, that Olivia is brain dead and will never wake up, but the hospital needs to do everything it can to keep her alive, because she is pregnant.

A single mother, Abi has spent her whole life striving to protect her daughter from any possibility of harm. She pressured Olivia to study as hard as possible, checked her homework, gave her early curfews, made sure she always knew where her daughter was every minute they weren't together. Abi was determined that Olivia would have a more stable life than she had. So how did it all go utterly awry? How could Olivia be lying in a hospital bed, being kept alive by machines in the hopes that her baby might survive?

"I'd spent my whole life hiding, just existing behind the walls I'd built around myself. I never got the answers I needed when my mother died. I was powerless to stop my mom killing herself. Powerless to make Olivia's father choose me. Powerless to stop my daughter from—the pain of reality hit me in the stomach."

When Abi notices the bruises on Olivia's wrists, she expects the police will fully investigate what happened to her. But when the police rule the incident an accident, Abi cannot understand why no one seems to care what happened to Olivia. Abi won't let that roadblock stop her—she is determined to get answers. What happened to Olivia that night? Who is the baby's father? Was Olivia's fall an accident, or did someone deliberately try to kill her?

"What do you do when you know something and nobody will listen? When you need answers and nobody will provide them? When you can't trust anybody to help you?"

Christina McDonald does a great job in both laying out the mystery behind what happened to Olivia, and creating a richly emotional story about a mother struggling to come to terms with tragedy, and the possible glimmer of hope that lies beyond it. The narration in The Night Olivia Fell shifts between Abi and Olivia, between present day and the path of events that culminate in Olivia's fall.

While I didn't find the resolution of the mystery to be particularly surprising, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book, or how hooked I was on it. Clearly that is because of McDonald's talent in telling this story, making you care about the characters and drawing you in fully, so you can't stop turning the pages and devouring the story.

This is a poignant story of parental love, teenage angst, the need for truth, and the realization that no matter how hard we try, we can't always escape our problems. I enjoyed this tremendously, and can't wait to see what McDonald has in store in the future!

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