The Girl Who Wasn’t by Cara Thurlbourn
Expected Publication Date: 9/30/21
I was given an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I will start by saying that this book had seriously great potential, but I think it missed the mark in several ways.
Our main characters are Jeanette and Jack, two classmates at a British secondary school. Jeanette is living with her mother, who is agoraphobic and has a severe hoarding problem. Jeanette has only one real friend, Violet, but even Violet doesn’t know the conditions that Jeanette is living in or the mental health issues that Jeanette’s mom is dealing with.
Jack seems like a typical teenage boy on the surface: he has friends, he plays on the football team, and he has a beautiful girlfriend. But then his girlfriend breaks up with him (and starts dating one of Jack’s friends) and we learn that Jack likes playing music more than playing football, much to his mother’s dismay. We also get the feeling that all is not well in Jack’s parents’ marriage.
Jeanette and Jack meet on the bus to school one day and start talking (notable because Jeannette is one of those kids that nobody talks to and everybody makes fun of, calling her “Grease Girl”). Eventually Jeanette convinces Jack to come to a choir rehearsal with her. It seems that perhaps something more than a casual friendship might be in the cards for the two of them until Jeanette overhears Jack and one of his guy friends making fun of her.
Saddened by the fact that yet another person is judging her based on her appearance, Jeanette creates a fake online profile using photos of a girl she considers to be much more beautiful, and reaches out to Jack under the fake name of Marcia.
And this is where things fall apart for me. I’m OK with a little “You’ve Got Mail” vibe, but this blatant and extreme catfishing goes way too far, with Jack believing he’s genuinely in love with Marcia despite having never actually met her.
I’m also a little concerned about how many mental health issues are present in this book (agoraphobia, hoarding, Jack’s mother’s violence, Jack’s rage issues) and never fully dealt with. Yes, we get the idea that things are “better” in all those areas by the end, but I think a frank discussion of the problems and the steps taken to resolve them would be beneficial.
“You pretended to be someone else to get Jack to like you, but the whole time I’ve been right here.”
I loved the twist with Suzanne at the very end but feel it should have been earlier and been more of the focus of the plot. That kind of development would have been so much more compelling, and I definitely would love to read a book that centers on that kind of awakening. Also, we get hints that Suzanne has some kind of medical issues that are never really addressed. I’m confused as to why that plot thread was left hanging.
Overall, this book was a decent read, but it could have been so much more. I am definitely open to reading more from this author, especially book one in this series. I’ve been vacillating between giving this book 2.5 or 3 stars, but I think I’m going to go with 3, because it was an interesting story despite its flaws.
Thank you to NetGalley and Wise Wolf Books for providing me with a copy of this book for review.