Desert Isle Keeper
You Were Always Mine
Nicole Baart’s thriller, You Were Always Mine, examines the threads of an ordinary life gone disastrously awry when choices made in secret are exposed to the harshness of daylight.
Lit teacher Jessica Chamberlain is dealing with her separation from her doctor husband Evan, whose cheating and frustrating inconsistency in parenting their children has resulted in the boys being troubled. Sullen thirteen-year-old Max and sunshiny Superman-obsessed seven-year-old Gabe are her world, and she does her best to keep the household afloat in Evan’s absence.
It’s an average weekday morning when Deputy Mullen from Minnesota calls Jess’s Iowa home to inform her that a body shot to death and matching Evan’s description has been found on public hunting grounds with Jess’ phone number in the front pocket of his shirt. The police positively ID him, and at first Jess is in denial. Then someone breaks into her house, leaving behind a cryptic diary filled with information she can’t parse. It leads her to communication between Evan and the mother of their adopted son – the subject of an adoption she thought was closed.
LaShonna Tate has a deep connection to the Chamberlains. LaShonna gave her boy to their safekeeping years ago, requesting a closed adoption, but Evan has kept in touch with LaShonna, in many ways. When complexities, secrets, and betrayals emerge, Jess will only have herself to rely on. What secrets was Evan hiding? And how deeply was he connected with LaShonna?
You Were Always Mine is a balancing act in disparate qualities that comes off beautifully. The way the novel alternates the sinister with the normal is fascinating; childhood illness and school trouble with deep dark secrets and missing mothers. The frailties of the human body, the frailties of the human spirit – all emerge and come out to play. The kitchen sink beauty of the situation is what helps boost everything along and makes the whole novel compelling.
Jess is an ordinary woman trying to keep her balance in a world that keeps pulling the rug out from under her feet. She’s easy to understand and root for, and easy to relate to.
Max and Gabe are wholly compelling characters who feel like real children instead of plot constructs, which is an authorial victory.
The complicated weight of parenthood rests heavily on the novel. The plot is beautifully woven, and ramps the tension up step by step. Jess’ difficult relationship with her father and stepmother echo in her relationship with her children, which is typical but fraught with complex love.
The suspense plot is unexpectedly twisty; you won’t be expecting the way it plays out, and you won’t be ready to figure out who our sympathetic monster really is. It’s fun to follow, engrossing, and morally complex.
You Were Always Mine is likely to strike a solid cord with anyone who’s loved a child, or anyone who simply likes a darn good mystery. Who you’ll side with in the end will be up in the air – it will leave you thinking, and tug on your heartstrings.