Book Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

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Eep. I have some thoughts about this one.

Emma in the Night is a psychological thriller by Wendy Walker that centers on the disappearance of Cass and Emma Tanner. Three years ago, the two sisters both mysteriously disappeared. Now, Cass shows back up without Emma telling a story about the two sisters being held against their will on a mysterious island somewhere off the Northeast coast. But the story doesn’t exactly add up, and FBI psychologist Dr. Abby Winter begins delving into Cass’s family issues and the people surrounding her in order to try to figure out what really happened—because she suspects it isn’t exactly what Cass said happened.

Emma in the Night was my September Book of the Month pick, and it came pretty highly hyped. I was super excited about this based on the description and the overall concept, and a lot of my friends on bookstagram said they loved it, which had me thinking, hey, these people have really good taste, so I’ll probably like this a lot, too!

Eep. No. Looks like I am in the minority on this one, as I really, really did not enjoy this book. This took me way longer than usual to finish because I just really was not very interested at all and I had to push myself through it. The concept of this book is really great, but the execution just did not work out for me personally.

There were a couple things I disliked about this one, but I think the main thing I dislike is that I felt like this book was about 90% expository dialogue, which is one of my least favorite things to read. I wish I had realized that that was how the book was written, because if I had, I probably wouldn’t have chosen it. I mean the majority of the chapters are seriously just pages and pages of mini-monologues and people talking about what happened. Ugh. I was just so bored. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if we had gotten more flashbacks to actual action where we got to experience things and see things happening. While some expository dialogue can be expected in any work of fiction—especially one with a concept like this—I as a reader just don’t have the patience for a book that is almost entirely expository dialogue, especially within the first few chapters. It just does not hold my attention.

As for the twists (*spoilers ahead*), I just didn’t think they were that great and they didn’t catch me off guard or really keep me on my toes at all. Sadly, every description of the book that I read pretty much sold out the ending for me, because everything says that things are not as Cass describes them, and that it has something to do with her family. So, the entire time she is talking, we know she is lying (which may be one of the reasons I didn’t have a lot of patience for the expository dialogue—it was harder to pay attention when I knew none of it was true anyway), and we know that her shady family definitely did something shady. Once we start reading, Cass tells us within the first few pages that Emma is already dead, so that’s another non-existent mystery. And because Abby Winter is so heavily focused on the girls’ narcissistic mother—to the point that narcissistic personality disorder becomes an entirely separate subplot within the novel, including flashbacks to Abby’s own narcissistic mother—it was pretty darn obvious to me that it was the mother who killed her. One might argue that this is just me jumping to conclusions, and one might be entirely right—but the conclusions I jumped to were correct, so my point stands. It kind of sucked the fun out of it and the twists ended up not being very shocking…at all.

I was bothered by some of the inconsistencies throughout the book, too, specifically Cass’s switching back and forth between what she calls her mother. When it was first introduced that her mother insisted Cass call her “Mrs. Martin” as a result of how angry she was at her for asking to live with her dad, I thought that was a really interesting detail, and I felt it was realistic how she carried it through the book…until she didn’t anymore. At some point, she started switching between calling her “Mrs. Martin” and calling her “mom”. Then I was just disappointed in the inconsistency. I felt that if the author was going to introduce this really interesting tidbit, she should stick with it. If not, then I’m not sure why it was introduced at all. I also didn’t like that even though the entire book switched back and forth between Cass’s and Abby’s POV for every other chapter, until at one point when we switched back and forth between them multiple times within one chapter. I didn’t feel this was necessary and almost felt messy or rushed. I think we could kept the pattern and still conveyed the same information effectively.

Meanwhile, there were other little tidbits that were repeated so much I felt like I was going crazy. Like, tell me one more time about how Emma smashed the Barbie dolls together and pretended they were having sex. Or the phrase “sex power”, which felt like an especially juvenile turn of phrase for Cass to be using over and over and over until it was just driven into the ground. I mean, yeah, she was young, but she was fifteen when the sisters disappeared, meaning even if she had been extremely isolated on the island to a point that stunted her mental development, she was already well into her teen years by the time she started using this phrase “sex power”, which sounds like something a very young child would say. I admit, that one was a pretty nitpicky little thing, but it just annoyed the heck out of me!

All that being said, though, I (almost) never hate everything about a book, and there were a few things I really liked or thought were very well done. The first thing I was really impressed by was that Walker switched from first person POV (in Cass’s chapters) to third person POV (in Abby’s chapters) very fluidly and so seamlessly that at first, I didn’t even really notice it was happening. Sometimes when books switch back and forth like this, it can be very jarring, but the flow of the chapters was so nice and the POVs were cohesive enough that it wasn’t an unpleasant or jolting change. I really liked that she was able to do this so smoothly. In fact, the only time I really noticed it or it really pulled me out of the story was the one time when she broke the pattern and switched between their POVs multiple times in one chapter, as I mentioned above.

The other thing I liked was that was a bit of a twist within a twist at the end, and while the main twist was super predictable with the mother having killed Emma, I didn’t predict the twist about Cass being the one who had a daughter (which I’m glad we cleared up, because when Abby and the FBI brushed it off as “oh, the clothes on the island for a two year old little girl must have been left over from Bill and Lucy’s two year old little boy” I was like…we aren’t seriously going with that, are we? Thank God we circled back around to it). I would not have guessed that Cass would tell Emma to pretend she was pregnant by Hunter when in fact it was Cass in that situation, so I was glad that even though the main “twist” didn’t surprise me at all, there was still another bit of information that I didn’t guess.

All in all, I don’t think this is a terrible book. By no means do I think it was just some really crappy book that no one should read or something extreme like that! I think there were some very well written parts and some very, very memorable quotes (like when Witt talks about how things seem so big when you’re younger but become very, very small as you grow up—that wisdom in particular rings extremely true). But for me, this book just did not work out and it didn’t suit my tastes at all. I definitely could have liked it a lot more, so for those reasons and the flaws (as I perceive them) discussed here, I’d only give it two out of five stars.

What did everyone else think? Did you read Emma in the Night? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3

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