This book was a slow burn. If you prefer something that is really fast paced that will keep you on the edge of your seat, The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen might not be for you.
However, if you don’t mind waiting to find out what the real intrigue of the story is going to be because you spend most of the book learning about the neighborhood and the cast of characters who live there, then definitely grab a copy of Whalen’s book for free from Prime Reading. Personally, I don’t mind a slow burn because character development is my favorite thing about stories.
The Things We Wish Were True is set in a North Carolinan neighborhood during summer. From the outside, the neighborhood looks completely normal and probably even a really boring place. In some ways, it reminded me of my own small hometown where people tend to settle down and have kids or they go away for a while and come back to buy a house. There are several characters through which you see the neighborhood and you discover the problems that lie beneath the seemingly-idyllic surface.
It’s mentioned briefly and not a lot of weight is put on it, but the almost perfect neighborhood has suffered a loss. A little girl was kidnapped recently but people seem to just want to look away from the “Have You Seen Me?” posters and billboards. It’s too terrible a thing to happen in their town and they are too caught up in their own problems to really put a lot of thought into it (at least, that’s how I saw it). The few brief mentions of the girl weren’t enough for me to truly worry about her and I was surprised when the discovery of the girl was a huge moment for one of the characters. Though, perhaps I just got sucked into the other characters’ hesitation in even thinking about it too much.
Interestingly, it’s not the kidnapped girl who brings people in the neighborhood together. It’s the near drowning of a little boy named Cutter at the local pool where everyone spends the hot summer days. He’s saved by a man named Lance whose wife had abruptly left him and his children in order to assess if she wanted to continue the marriage. Cutter’s older sister, Cailey, goes to stay with a lady in the neighborhood named Zell because her single mom wasn’t going to be able to stay at the hospital with Cutter who was in a coma and work her multiple jobs. Lance starts a romance with Jencey who came back to town with her daughters after leaving as a teenager because of a stalker. Her husband was recently arrested for fraud and she had nowhere else to go but home. Jencey had a romantic relationship with Everett in high school, but he’s now married to Bryte who loved him in high school, but was best friends with Jencey. Those are all of the characters through which the book is written (each chapter is a different POV). Everything is connected and yet they all have their own specific problems and secrets that contribute to the suspense of the novel.
If this ever gets made into a movie, I can see Hollywood execs turning it into a creepy suspense thriller where “everything is not as it seems” and “can you even trust your neighbors anymore?” When in reality, it’s more like a love letter to small towns and the people in them and the secrets they harbor. It shows how a community comes together when one of their own is threatened and how the secrets they keep might tear them apart.
The Things We Wish Were True made me miss my small hometown with its quiet neighborhoods and people who say hi to you on the street even if you don’t know them (a habit that continually baffled me as a child because I was taught not to talk to strangers but there goes my mother saying “hi how are you?” to a random old lady walking her dog).
TL;DR: this book isn’t a thriller, but it is an interesting study of small town life and how kept secrets might keep that neighborhood together or how it might tear them apart. It’s definitely worth it to download it for free off Prime Reading on your Kindle like I did!