Sunday, March 9, 2014

Book Review: The Playdate

This was one of those psychological thrillers where the ground you're standing on continues to shift until the truth is finally revealed. Many Amazon reviewers gave it four and five stars, but I wasn't as impressed with it. It was an easy read, but the characters were hard to get behind. They shifted from good to bad and bad to good and were, in some cases, just weird. The premise was a good one: what if something were to happen to your child while on a playdate? (The hook on the cover: "You leave your kids with a friend. Everyone does it. Until the day it goes wrong.") The story was interesting, but in the end, the book was just okay.

Callie has a hard time making friends in her London neighborhood. The other mothers all seem to snub her, apart from one sort-of close friend. She's not really very close. Callie can tell the relationship is more one of convenience than true soul-sharing, but she continues to rely on her friend, Suzy, nonetheless. Suzy has a dashing, successful husband and three boys and wants to spend their newly established free time (because Callie's daughter, Rae, and Suzy's oldest son, Henry, are both in kindergarten and Suzy's younger twins are finally in nursery school) doing things together. Sadly, Callie is feeling the need to pull away and actually return to work, now that Rae is more established in school and her heart problems seem to be abating. Callie's return to work isn't going smoothly, but Suzy makes it clear that she is more than willing to help out getting Rae out of after-school care whenever Callie has to work late.

Spoiler alert: Here's where the story began to get more confusing. Callie calls Suzy to ask her to pick Rae up because she has to work late. Instead, Suzy asks the strange neighbor, Debs, (who has some mysterious background and hyper-alert sensitivities to noise) to walk the girl home because Debs is a teacher at the after-school care program. While on the walk home, the girl falls into the street in front of an oncoming cyclist. This is somehow a highly serious accident, despite it only being a scratch, because of her heart condition, although it turns out to be fine (and at this point, I'm wondering why the book is titled "The Playdate" when the incident happens on a trip home). Suddenly, suspicions focus more on Debs, but then it turns out it is Suzy who isn't really what she appears to be. In fact, all of the characters begin to shape-shift. It turns out that Debs is really just a concerned by-stander who is being tormented and set-up by Suzy, who ends up being the key nut-job. Callie's daughter, Rae, is revealed to be the product of an affair with Suzy's husband, Jez. Callie's ex-husband, Tom, who has seemed to be a bad guy, turns up with a renewed desire to protect Callie and Rae. Suzy takes Rae from a play-date (hence, the title, finally) with another little girl, Hannah, and attempts to kill her in a car accident while she is driving. Say what??? Really, it was all a bit too much to take in and seemed too sensational, as if the writer was just trying to come up with the key shock factors.

I think the author was successful in presenting the story by interweaving the narration from three perspectives (Callie's chapters told in first person, and Debs' and Suzy's chapters told in third-person). I also think her writing was smooth and easy to follow. The plotting was good. But, in the end, the characters shifted too much for me. Somehow I felt like I, as a reader, was being manipulated. Still, for a first novel, I'd say Millar did an outstanding job and has great potential for future psychological thrillers.

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