Twisty and brimming with the emotional power of beautifully drawn characters, the solo debut by the coauthor of The Boy in the Suitcase is a brooding and atmospheric thriller that sets a young mother on a collision course with her past in order to save her son's future.
Ella Nygaard, 27, has been a ward of the state since she was seven years old, the night her father murdered her mother. She doesn’t remember anything about that night or her childhood before it—but her body remembers. The PTSD-induced panic attacks she now suffers incapacitate her for hours at a time, sometimes days.
After one particularly bad episode lands Ella in a psych ward, she discovers her son, Alex, has been taken from her by the state and placed with a foster family. Desperate not to lose her son, Ella kidnaps Alex and flees to the seaside town in northern Denmark where she was born. Her grandmother’s abandoned house is in grave disrepair, but she can live there for free until she can figure out how to convince social services that despite everything, she is the best parent for her child.
But being back in the small town forces Ella to confront the demons of her childhood—the monsters her memory has tried so hard to obscure. What really happened that night her mother died? Was her grandmother right—was Ella’s father unjustly convicted? What other secrets were her parents hiding from each other? If Ella can start to remember, maybe her scars will begin to heal—or maybe the truth will put her in even greater danger.
Ella Nygaard, the heroine of this devastating solo debut from Danish author Friis (coauthor of The Boy in the Suitcase and three other Nina Borg novels), was seven when her father allegedly murdered her mother. Some believe that Ella was a witness, but she can't remember the crime; in fact, she can't recall anything prior to her subsequent placement in the foster system. Now a 28-year-old single mother, Ella suffers from severe PTSD. When she's hospitalized after an especially debilitating episode, the government assumes custody of her 11-year-old son, Alex, and tells Ella they need to re-evaluate her parental competence. Ella panics, kidnaps Alex, and decamps to Klitm ller, the remote coastal village where she grew up. Ella's efforts to unlock her memories and regain control of her life are interspersed with flashbacks to 1994, told from her parents' perspectives. Emotionally complex characters complement the intricate plot, which reflects on the interconnectivity of poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness. The pace is deliberate, but Friis's writing is propulsive, and the book's twisty conclusion will shock and gratify.