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Warning: Discusses content regarding sexual assault.
This review contains spoilers for Helen Callaghan’s Dear Amy.
It’s rare that I pick up a book by an author I have not read before, but that is exactly what happened when I picked up Helen Callaghan’s Dear Amy. Set in Cambridge, England, a high school English teacher moonlights as the local paper’s advice columnist.
Margot Lewis has just had a student go missing, but for some reason, she is getting letters from a girl that went missing almost 20 years ago.
Bethan Avery’s grandmother was murdered. That same afternoon, she went missing.
Did the same man kidnap them both? Is it even Bethan sending the letters? Did she survive? Why is Margot Lewis receiving these letters?
That is the million-dollar question in this book.
It is easily the second most bizarre book I have ever read. The story line is a little hard to follow at times, with the protagonist jumping in and out of complete awareness of her life. There were several times where I would have to reread the chapter I had just finished to make sure I was following the story correctly.
The plot feels extremely slow to start, and then suddenly, in the last 100 pages, everything happens at once. This is where the story begins to come together, and is definitely the most gripping part of the novel. Especially the explanation of what happened between the kidnapper and Bethan Avery.
It will make your skin crawl. This book describes a man’s obsession with underage girls, and it physically makes me sick to read. He explains how he plans his kidnaps, the lengths he goes to. It’s utterly disturbing. The novel is almost like an extremely twisted episode of Law and Order: SVU.
However, the most interesting thing in this novel is the psychological state of Margot. There are signs throughout the novel about how broken she is – she refuses to take her anti-depressants, is going through a divorce and has been hospitalised twice for her illness. But it is not until you find out who Bethan Avery is that you understand just how much damage she has received in her life. It is an extraordinary explanation of the human psyche and how it deals with trauma.
This book wouldn’t be in my top recommendations, but it was like many thriller/crime novels – it leaves you dazed, confused and a little sick to the stomach about how messed up people can be. When it all comes together it leaves you wondering what the hell you just read.
In essence, it is kind of a mind fuck.