The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
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In an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations.
From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.
Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.
During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?
Review by Brittany:
I one-clicked this book on Amazon because of the blurb. I like the Desperate Housewives sort of idea, where neighbors know each other on the surface but have no idea what's actually going on behind closed doors. I think that is truer than we often want to admit in the world around us, and suspense novels like these usually take it up a notch.
While this book kept me turning pages, it was less about the suspense and more about the characters and relationships that were being built. Zell, an older woman whose children have long since moved out, was one of my favorites. She is they type of woman who goes out of her way to help other people, which can sometimes put you in a position to know too much about what's going on in other people's lives.
My favorite tangled relationship in the novel was between Jencey and Bryte. Two woman who were best friends once upon a time now can barely move beyond the surface to address the things that happened in the past. Jencey was being stalked and up and left home, never returning after leaving for college. What got left behind was Bryte, her best friend, and Everett, her high school sweetheart. In the wake of Jencey leaving, Bryte picked up the pieces for Everett, and now they're married. This makes for a complicated rekindling, and the author made these moments just as awkward as you'd think they'd be. In the tangle of this relationship is Everett, a man who loves his wife yet can't help but think about the what-ifs when Jencey comes back into town. I felt like this triangle was pretty true to life, people struggling to come to terms with the past and to deal with the repercussions it has on the present.
Of course, secrets slowly get revealed - who was Jencey's stalker? What is Bryte keeping from Everett? What does Zell know about her neighbor's wife leaving? - and this adds to the suspense. The author did a great job of keeping some realism to things that people were hiding while maintaining the heightened suspense of figuring it all out.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It wasn't quite as heart-poundingly suspenseful as I was anticipating, but the character and relationship development added an unexpected layer of enjoyment. I definitely recommend this one!
Did life add or take away from who we are at sixteen?
This is who they were. This was the choice they'd all made.
...she could sympathize with his reticence to be somewhere people were having a good time. It took a lot out of you: celebrating when you wanted to do anything but.
The day, she concluded, hadn't been bad or good. It had been a day like any other, another bead in a very long string.
Her inexplicable unease about Jencey was either women's intuition or complete paranoia. Or residual from their past, creeping in, never fully vanquished no matter how much they all moved on.
She wanted to tell her that this reality wasn't the only one there was, forever. That nothing stayed the same.
And yet, Jencey understood, there were the things she wished were true, and there was what was actually true.