In a town full of secrets, it’s hard to tell where the truth lies…
Tall Bones was the original name of Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey
When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes that they have their whole lives ahead of them. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again.
Abi’s disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Within Abi’s own family there are many secrets. Abi’s brothers – Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed and Jude, the younger sibling who hides his battle scars And her parents – both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. And what of Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him.
In a tinder box of small-town rage, it will take just one spark to ignite the truth of what really happened the night that Abi disappeared.
The synopsis of Tall Bones is quite deceiving. It reads like a typical mystery thriller where a young girl goes missing. Yet Abi’s disappearance is merely a catalyst in what is actually a story of small town gossip, secluded people and scaremongering.
There are multiple stories in this book. Each key character in the town of Whistling Ridge gets almost equal attention. They all have their own tale to tell. But unlike a lot of books, these all flow nicely and complement the underlying story.
Characters, although unlikeable, are vividly portrayed, their thoughts, feelings and pain clearly written so that we empathise with them. The different types of relationship are profound and meaningful. From family loyalty, betrayed friendship and forbidden love, Bailey tackles each with knowledge and understanding.
Even the town and surrounding countryside receive sufficient attention, evoking a sense of a beautiful but lonely place. Its presence is described so vividly that it almost becomes an additional character.
Everyone has things to hide. Yet what is concealed in plain sight? And what are the townsfolk pretending not to see?
Religion is the enemy here. Isolated, downtrodden and brainwashed, the townspeople believe they are doing the right thing, cleansing their community from the evils of the modern world.
Bailey draws on her own experiences of US life. Shocking to many of us that racism, homophobia and domestic abuse can so prevalent and yet so accepted. When one character speaks to the pastor about her husband’s violence, he asks what she has done to anger him? Victim blaming and gaslighting are rife.
It’s not a perfect book by any means and many would question the extent of some of the small town stereotypes, not to mention the reasons some of the characters chose to hide their innocent secrets or remain in the town. Yet this debut novel is gripping, thought-provoking and uncomfortable.
The ending is predictable. But somehow it feels satisfactory, because it is not a sudden dramatic reveal, but a gradual build. That said, there are so many questions left remaining that the reader can choose to believe their own course of events.
I was given an advance copy of Tall Bones for the Grazia book club. Opinions are my own.
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