Book Review: I Let You Go

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

This is a book of two twists. The first twist was phenomenal. Like really, really great. The second twist undid all the awesomeness of the first twist and left me with an overall sense of disappointment.

First, the good. I Let You Go is brilliantly structured. The structure is what facilitates the first twist. The story opens with a prologue which immediately delivers the premise: we watch a mother and her young son walk home from school, only for the mother to release her son's hand as they cross the road. The son is struck by a vehicle and killed, and the vehicle flees the scene. After this prologue comes Part 1, which is told in alternating points of view. The first perspective is that of the police detectives investigating the hit and run, and it's told in third person. The second perspective, which comes in first person, is that of the boy's mother, Jenna, who's fled the city to cope with her grief in small-town Wales. Jenna is still reeling from the accident, even a year and a half later. She lives alone in a shack near the beach and is terrified of her identity being discovered. She just wants to be left alone. Part 1 concludes with the detectives finally uncovering the identity of the driver, and with tracking the boy's mother down to let her know. Except when the police come for Jenna it's to arrest her. Turns out she's not the boy's mother, but the boy's killer.

Bam. Hell of a twist. The first half of the book is the kind of thing I wish I'd written.

But then, unfortunately, comes Part 2.

Part 2 introduces a third perspective, told in second person POV. (This is the first and only book I've read that's managed to use all three perspectives in one story.) This new voice is Jenna's husband, who we learn is all kinds of abusive to her. She took off on him after the boy was killed, and now he wants her back. After much back-and-forth between Jenna's history with her abusive husband and the proceedings of the investigation into the hit-and-run, we eventually come to the second twist: Jenna didn't kill the boy after all. She was in the car when he was hit, but her abusive husband was driving.

And there went all the wind from my sails.

The genius of the first half of the book comes from playing on the reader's assumptions and the reader's sympathies. Jenna is a mess and we feel bad for her. Something terrible happened to her, and look how it ruined her life. But when we realize that no, something terrible didn't happen to her, she did something terrible, suddenly we're disgusted with ourselves for pitying her. She deserves to feel miserable. It's her punishment. But then again, it was an accident, wasn't it? That doesn't make her a bad person. Does she really deserve all this ostracization? It could have been anyone behind the wheel, even me. It was an accident.

Just as the reader's beginning to re-think her hatred for Jenna, Jenna goes from being a stand-in for the reader to being a victim, and suddenly it's not her fault. She can't be held responsible for anything, because she's already blaming herself for everything. Cripes, she's ready to go to jail for a crime she didn't commit! After Jenna was revealed to be a victim of domestic abuse, I figured that she'd accidentally hit the boy while trying to get away from her husband. That would be understandable. Still awful, but an accident, and understandable. She gets sympathy as well as blame, which balance each other out. But when it was revealed that her husband was driving, and that he ran the boy down on purpose, and that the boy was actually his son (which I somehow saw coming even before the Part 1 twist), I checked out. My suspension of disbelief disappeared. The story I thought I was reading suddenly morphed into something else. The revelation felt shoehorned in, like the act of running over a child with a vehicle was so bad it could only be done by a despicable human being, not sweet, victimized Jenna. Not someone who just made a mistake. It felt like a cop-out, and it undermined everything that was so great about Part 1 and its jaw-dropping twist.

A disappointing end to a killer start, but still a speed-read kind of book.