A Nearly Normal Family

Review From User :

A slow burn that's hot 4.5, rounded up

I usually don't like slow burns, but this crime drama had a fire that warmed me right up. Did the nearly normal daughter commit this heinous crime Did the nearly normal parents act normally

Here is what the husband said about their lives:

"On Monday nights, my wife went to yoga and on Thursdays I played tennis. We had a mortgage, which we dutifully made payments on; we sorted our trash and used our blinkers and kept to the speed limit and always returned library books on time."

Even though they sound sort of anal (or goody-two-shoes), with the speed limit and library-book-returns business, they really are normal as all get out. Until their daughter is accused of murder! We get the dad's story, then the daughter's, then the mom's. The different perspectives on the same situation kept adding more depth to the characters and more excitement to the plot. It's all told in first person, which I like because it makes the characters seem so real, like they're personally letting me in on their secrets.

I wasn't wowed by the first section, which was the dad's. He was a sympathetic character, and I felt his pain (which is the most important thing, actually). But he was a little too predictable and a tad boring. His conflicts and his behavior were just, well, nearly normal-even the thing he did that was supposed to be a big deal (I'm being vague on purpose here). He seemed sort of whiny, and he repeated stuff. He reminded me of the dad in a book I loved called Defending Jacob-maybe a little too much, in that I'd heard it all before. One thing that did work was this: he made me so so curious to find out what his daughter was like. Was she nearly normal Or was she a psychopath What were her secrets I mean, all teenagers keep secrets, but were hers especially bad, or even evil

I was so jazzed when he shut up, because next I got to hear directly from his daughter, who was in jail. (Cool transition by the author.) Let's hear what she has to say! What was she really like Was she capable of killing someone I got busy comparing what she said to what her dad had reported about her, trying to figure out whether his worries were justified, trying to size her up. It was hard not to get attached to her, even though I didn't know if she was guilty or whether she was someone I should be attached to. I loved this section completely. I liked how she didn't tell the whole story-I had to wait until the end to find out what really happened. And it was a clever surprise!

The mom's story took up the last section of the book, and that's where we got riveting courtroom scenes. I'm not always crazy about courtroom dramas, but here the scenes were perfection. Good lawyers, good questions, good answers, and no confusion (no new players whom I had to get to know at the last minute). I was pretty much on the edge of my seat by this time. I liked the mom's story. She was angsty, but it didn't get old. Hearing from her was a treat after hearing about her second-hand from her husband and daughter. She was much more complex than I had thought.

This is a crime drama with depth and soul. The characters are all introspective and don't cut themselves any slack. I love it when characters think so much about what they're doing and how it affects everyone else; it elevates the mystery, makes it ten times better than a flat whodunit. The author did a great job showing us the complex family dynamics-the dysfunction and the love, the secrets and lies, the doubts. It perfectly captures the pain and guilt of being a parent, and drills home how you just don't ever know what your teenagers are doing. They do have a secret life-you just have to hope it's not an evil or dangerous one.

Editor twitches: Once, info was presented twice, several pages apart. Editor, editor, where are you And there was an incident at jail that was just dropped. I desperately wanted to hear what happened afterward.

The author is Swedish; I thought the translation was good. It was fun to see how the justice system works in Sweden. It wasn't totally different from what we have in the U.S., but different enough to make me stop and ponder. Need to check out whether this author has other books that have been translated.

Final verdict: A really good read. A fantastic character study and a cool and satisfying courtroom scene. Great for people who want a meaty whodunit or who want a good family drama. Funny, this is the second literary crime drama I've read this year-Miracle Creek is the other. Both had teenage girls in the mix and both had courtrooms. I loved both books, but right this second I think I liked A Nearly Normal Family a little bit better. It's close, though. Read both, is what I say; neither will disappoint.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

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