Not Her Daughter
by Rea Frey
Length: 352 Pages
Release date: August 21, 2017
Blurb via Goodreads:
Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.
Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.
Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.
Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?
Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.
Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.
As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Not Her Daughter is fast-paced, engaging, and a relatively quick read. It opens with a relatively common situation: a stressed-out mother in a crowded public place is a little rough with her daughter. Maybe a little too rough. Maybe it’s an isolated incident. Maybe it’s not.
Those “maybes” start to pile up, and Sarah Walker, our main protagonist, can’t cope with the thought of leaving an innocent little girl in a bad situation. When she happens to encounter Emma again, she views it as a sign that she needs to find out more. After witnessing another act of cruelty by Amy, Emma’s mother, Sarah does the unthinkable and takes her. What follows is Sarah’s desperate effort to stay ahead of the hunt for Emma’s kidnapper while attempting to give her a better life.
Amy is miserable, both before and after the kidnapping. She has anger management problems and a marriage that leaves her feeling smothered. She has never been able to bond with Emma in the slightest, and her younger child also prefers her husband to herself. She seems to spend every waking moment itching to escape.
What’s interesting about this book is that one has to question the reliability of both of the main POV characters. Sarah has unresolved trauma from childhood caused by her mother. She is also dealing with emotional distress caused by a recent breakup of a long-term relationship. She is feeling desperate and alone, and she sees herself in Emma. Emma gives her a sense of purpose and perhaps a chance to rescue the little girl she once was herself. Can this desperation cause Sarah to read too much into a situation?
Amy resents Emma deeply, and seems to ascribe a level of malicious intent that is simply not believable in a five-year-old child. Emma fidgets because she knows it drives Amy crazy. Emma climbs a tree because she’s so desperate to pull the attention away from Amy and onto herself. Emma does absolutely everything she does because it is her life’s mission to make Amy as miserable as possible.
The images of Emma conjured up by each of these women cannot possibly be the same child. Sarah or Amy must be mistaken. Personally, I think they both are to some extent, and part of the fun of this book was in trying to suss out a clear impression of the real Emma.
Parts of the plot strained the limits of credulity, especially the resolution, but that’s okay. Reading ordinary and perfectly believable events would not have made for a very interesting story. This is Frey’s debut novel, and while I think there was some room for improvement, it was a fun read. I look forward to seeing how she grows as an author over time.