Desert Isle Keeper
I picked up Hannah Mary McKinnon’s The Neighbors without really knowing what to expect and I love it so much when a book takes me completely by surprise. The premise intrigued me, so I figured it would be a good way to pass a few hours, but, once I started reading, I realized the book was so much more than that. It’s a story of love, secrets, and betrayal, and I loved every minute I spent with it.
In 1992, Abby and her brother Tom go out for a night on the town in hopes that it’ll cheer Tom up a bit after having just been dumped by his girlfriend. Abby doesn’t plan on getting drunk, but one thing leads to another, and both she and Tom end up pretty intoxicated. Still, Abby figures she’ll be fine to drive home, so she gets behind the wheel, but her decision has terrible consequences. There’s an accident which kills Tom and leaves Abby with an enormous amount of guilt.
Abby has no clue how she’ll cope with what she’s done. Her mother refuses to forgive her for her part in Tom’s death – and because she doesn’t think she deserves forgiveness, Abby’s okay with that. In fact, she convinces herself that she should sacrifice her own happiness in a vain attempt to make amends for what happened to Tom. To this end, she breaks things off with Liam, who is the love of her life. At first, he resists her attempts to end their relationship, but Abby stands firm and he eventually gives up.
Fast forward twenty years: Abby is married to Nate, the man who rescued her from the car accident all those years ago. They have a teenaged daughter, and they’re quite happy. Nate is well aware of Abby’s emotional scars, and he’s devoted his life to helping her find some semblance of peace, and, for the most part, he’s succeeded. Abby still thinks about that night, but the guilt and grief that once crippled her have eased over time, and she’s pretty functional these days.
Then, Liam and his family move in next door, and suddenly, long-buried emotions are forced to the forefront. For some reason I didn’t quite understand, Abby and Liam agree to keep their previous relationship a secret from their respective spouses. Their interactions are super awkward because of this, but Nate and Nancy, Liam’s wife, don’t seem to think anything is amiss. They just sort of keep mingling, and everyone pretends all is well, even though it obviously is not.
As time passes, the two families begin spending quite a bit of time together, and things get incredibly messy. Abby and Liam eventually rekindle their relationship, while Nancy and Nate form a friendship with some dangerous overtones. The lives these four have so carefully constructed slowly begin to crumble, and they all seem powerless to stop it from happening.
The Neighbors is one of those books that’s impossible to put down. It’s obvious from pretty near the beginning that things won’t turn out well for these characters, but I kept hoping for some kind of miracle. All of them have gone through a ton of really hard stuff, and I just wanted things to be okay for them. They all felt so real, and I give the author a great deal of credit for crafting characters who felt like real people with real joys and struggles rather than two-dimensional beings.
But it’s not always easy to like them. They all keep secrets from one another, and, while Ms. McKinnon does a great job showing the reader why they act the way they do, I sometimes found it hard to sympathize with those actions. I struggled with Abby, in particular. It’s obvious she’s deeply wounded, but I really disliked the way she treated Nate. His love for her is so apparent, and I wanted her to see and appreciate all the good things she had in her life.
I was totally blown away by the ending to this story. I’m obviously not going to spoil it for you, but trust me when I say it’s beyond anything you can imagine. There are so many ways I thought things might turn out, but Ms. McKinnon takes things in a totally unexpected direction, and I love the fact that she opted not to just play things safe. The ending won’t appeal to all readers, but I personally can’t imagine a more fitting conclusion to this very complicated novel.
If you love books that explore the secrets married people keep from one another, I strongly urge you to give The Neighbors a try. It’s unlike anything I’ve read in quite a while, and I’m now on a hunt for more like it.