Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Alison is lucky and she knows it. She has the life she always craved, including a happy home with Jeff and their brilliant, vivacious teenage daughter, Katherine - the absolute centre of Alison's world.
Then a knock at the door ends life as they know it.
Fifteen years ago, someone else took Alison's baby from the hospital. And now Alison is facing the unthinkable.
The daughter she brought home doesn't belong to her.
When you have everything you dreamed of, there is everything to lose.
It's only in the last year or two that I have started reading books by Adele Parks despite the numerous books she has published. I really enjoyed her forays into historical fiction with Spare Brides and If You Go Away. This time she has returned to contemporary fiction with a modern storyline with a more than intriguing tag line 'I thought she was my daughter. I was wrong. What would you do if your child wasn't yours?' To be honest even from reading this alone it sounded as if the family featured in The Stranger in my Home would be going through an absolute nightmare the entire length of this story. Hearing this information must be the one of the worst possible things a mother could be told. Everything you thought to be true has been shattered with a few words. The question remains how do you pick up the pieces of a broken life and attempt to find some sense of normality and come to terms with such earth shattering news? I was keen to discover how Adele Parks would tackle this subject as I love books written by Amanda Prowse, and although she hasn't dealt with this particular topic, she is excellent at writing about controversial subjects. Would this author be as successful?
Alison Mitchell has been with novelist Jeff for many years and they have a 15 year old daughter Katherine, they are happy and Alison lives for her daughter. Then one day with the sound of the doorbell ringing in their ears they receive devastating news which alters their way of life forever. A man called Truby knocks on their door and comes in to tell them 15 years ago at the hospital there had been a mix up and the child they believed to be theirs Katherine is not Alison's biologically. In fact his daughter Olivia really is Alison's daughter. This has only come to light due to a medical issue. I won't go into any more detail regarding the circumstances, as they become more evident the further we progress through the book, but within the prologue the main crux of the novel has been brought out into the open and over many pages it is explored. Of course I felt devastated for Alison and Jeff not to mention Katherine. They were an everyday family living an ordinary life and then as the title suggests in more ways than one they discover a stranger in their home. It's only towards the end that I realised just how clever and apt the title was with it's double meaning. Alison is full of shock and despair whereas Jeff retreats into his world of writing. She has flashbacks to her youth and relives what she went through and wonders does it affect how everything is taking place today?
The book makes you question how would you handle such a revelation? How would you continue to live as a family unit given the news you have received? It's not like you can just 'dump' the daughter you reared for 15 years and take Olivia into the warm arms of your family. Feelings, emotions, opinions in fact everything just doesn't change over night. I questioned whether the family would have just been better off not knowing and to carry on as normal but the extra revelation Truby imparts made all the difference. What follows is a story of how the family tries to cope on a daily basis and attempt to process what has happened.
I'll readily admit, and a friend I was talking to about this book felt the same, that once the initial impact occurred the book became very slow. I read around 100 pages and then things got in the way and I didn't get back to the book for weeks. There wasn't anything calling me back to pick it up immediately and continue to read. Even when I did reach for it again it was a struggle to keep going and as I have mentioned I felt another author would have covered this better. Well that's what I thought at the time regarding the point I was at in the book. But my friend told me to keep going that for the ending alone it would all be worth it. Yes it was but I still feel the book could have been shorter there was too much focus on Alison and how she was feeling yet I felt even reading this it wasn't pushing the story on and not much happened despite having read 200 pages or more.
I wanted the author to get more inside the head of Katherine. How did she feel about everything? She was at a young vulnerable impressionable age where things affect one hugely and this shocking news could make her go one way or the other. She begins to interact with her new family but it felt like we were witnessing things from the outside or from Alison's viewpoint and not Katherine's. I never really warmed to Alison, she became a bit too woe is me and she interacted too much with Truby whereas if I had been in that position I would have ran a mile and kept my distance until I was ready to interact and had a vision of how I wanted things to evolve. On the other hand I wanted her to mix more with Olivia but Alison surprised me several times over with her actions. Alison seemed to rush into things without thinking or seeing the full picture.
Despite my reservations about the pace of the book, which I still stand by, the twist when it came was truly shocking and my friend had been right - keep reading until the end it will be worth it. I had come close to putting this one down and not going back but boy was I glad I stuck with it. The twist is mind blowing and so sinister and creepy that it made me understand why the author wrote the book in the way she did. Why there was a focus on such a thing for the majority of the book as it completely threw me off what I should have seen but didn't at all. The wool had been truly pulled over my eyes and showed what a clever, skilful author Adele Parks is. It literally was jaw dropping and I couldn't have foreseen it in a million years. The last quarter of the book was by far the best, the pace picked up significantly and the sense of urgency and of things coming together only increased with the turn of each page and I was rapidly reading as quick as possible to discover the ending.
The Stranger in my Home was a slightly mixed bag for me, the ending and twists made up for the slow pace for the majority of the novel and despite messing with my mind so much the nagging feeling of the struggle I initially had didn't quite leave me. Saying that I would read this book for the last part alone the complexity of the characters and the overall situation and how strands are linked together was excellent. I'll be interested to see does Adele Parks stick with this type of writing for her next novel or will the past and historical fiction prove a strong draw. Whatever she writes I will read more of for certain.
Many thanks to Georgina Moore of Headline Publishing for my copy of The Stranger in my Home to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.