Whistle in the Dark: Book summary and reviews of Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

Whistle in the Dark

by Emma Healey

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey X
Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey
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Book Summary

Emma Healey follows the success of her #1 internationally bestselling debut novel Elizabeth Is Missing, winner of the Costa First Novel Award, with this beautiful, thought-provoking, and psychologically complex tale that affirms her status as one of the most inventive and original literary novelists today.

Jen and Hugh Maddox have just survived every parent's worst nightmare.

Relieved, but still terrified, they sit by the hospital bedside of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Lana, who was found bloodied, bruised, and disoriented after going missing for four days during a mother-daughter vacation in the country. As Lana lies mute in the bed, unwilling or unable to articulate what happened to her during that period, the national media speculates wildly and Jen and Hugh try to answer many questions.

Where was Lana? How did she get hurt? Was the teenage boy who befriended her involved? How did she survive outside for all those days? Even when she returns to the family home and her school routine, Lana only provides the same frustrating answer over and over: "I can't remember."

For years, Jen had tried to soothe the depressive demons plaguing her younger child, and had always dreaded the worst. Now she has hope - the family has gone through hell and come out the other side. But Jen cannot let go of her need to find the truth. Without telling Hugh or their pregnant older daughter Meg, Jen sets off to retrace Lana's steps, a journey that will lead her to a deeper understanding of her youngest daughter, her family, and herself.

A wry, poignant, and masterfully drawn story that explores the bonds and duress of family life, the pain of mental illness, and the fraught yet enduring connection between mothers and daughters, Whistle in the Dark is a story of guilt, fear, hope, and love that explores what it means to lose and find ourselves and those we love.

This book is published by an imprint of HarperCollins. Members of the HC union have been on strike since mid-Nov, fighting for a living wage. More than 650 authors and literary agents have committed to not submitting books to the company until the strike is resolved. Recent news articles
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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. An absorbing view of a family, with the emphasis on the mother-daughter connection, in which - flaws aside - love shines through." - Booklist

"An exquisite portrait of a mother's healing love for her troubled daughter." - Kirkus

"The desperate love of a parent for a child they cannot know is wonderfully true to life, and despite the rather bleak set-up, there are a lot of very funny moments... both cathartic and satisfying." - The Guardian (UK)

"With masterful skill and mounting suspense, Healey reveals the complexities and ambiguities of family life. A brilliant and unsettling novel." - Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy and Mercury

"Emma Healey is a natural story-teller, and I knew from the opening page that I would be in safe hands. She expertly shows what it's like to have a depressed teenage daughter - all the love, the worries, and frustrations were perfectly observed, while still managing to bring out the comic side of modern family life, and wrap it in a story that urged me to keep reading to find out what happened." - Claire Fuller, author of Swimming Lessons

"I don't know anyone else who writes like this. Emma Healey's voice soars, sings, and startles as she takes you right under the skin of her characters. She 'magics' the ordinary into the extraordinary and, just as impressively, transposes the extraordinary to the ordinary. Unforgettable." - Jane Corry, author of My Husband's Wife and Blood Sisters

This information about Whistle in the Dark was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

Healey’s second novel is at least as good as her debut.
“Jen felt a sudden exhaustion from the burden of the love she felt for Lana. Why did she have to drag this love around everywhere when, sometimes, she’d like to leave it behind for a few hours? Without that love, she could float away, let her daughter’s mood improve, let her put her frown and her sharp tongue back in their still-shiny packaging. Without that love, she could be light, untethered by their shared genetics, by the memory of Lana as a baby, or by the pride she felt in her wit, even when it was aimed so fiercely at her.”

Whistle in the Dark is the second novel by award-winning British author, Emma Healey. In the last days of a sketching holiday in Derbyshire’s Peak District, Jen wakes to every mother's worst nightmare: her fifteen-year-old daughter is missing. It is four days of worry before Lana is found, bruised and bloody, soaking wet, exhausted and hungry, by a local farmer.

"I can't remember" is her reply to every query. Jen's level-headed husband Hugh is perfectly happy to wait until his daughter remembers of her own accord: she's safe now, and that's all that really matters. Twenty-six-year-old Meg is convinced that her sister’s amnesia is just more of Lana’s attention-seeking behaviour.

But over the following days and weeks, Jen notes changes in Lana: this is not the teen she went away with. Whatever happened has changed her daughter in ways she can’t always define. She's quite sure she isn't imagining it, and she can’t help her compulsion to learn what those four lost days held for Lana.

Lana is not particularly likeable for much of the book: a typical prickly teen, and there seems to be a bit of sibling rivalry between sisters for Jen’s love and devotion. Jen’s relationship with Lana is not the easiest: “Jen was aware of the hum of paranoia beneath her thoughts, a hum that rose in pitch whenever Lana and she were alone together.”

A natural worrier, Jen is constantly clutching at straws, going to some extraordinary lengths to find out what happened to Lana. Any parent of a teenaged girl would be able to empathise with her, but is her level of concern natural, or does her monitoring of Lana’s tweets, Instagram posts and reading matter amount to stalking?

The reader wants to know too, sure, but sometimes Hugh’s laid-back attitude is less irritating than Jen’s anxiety. But it’s worth persisting, as Jen does, because patience is certainly rewarded with an excellent climax. And some of Jen’s research (viz. alternate uses of condoms) certainly adds humour. Healey’s second novel is at least as good as her debut.

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Author Information

Emma Healey

Emma Healey grew up in London where she studied for her first degree in bookbinding. She then worked for two libraries, two bookshops, two art galleries and two universities, before completing an MA in Creative Writing at the University East Anglia. Her first novel, Elizabeth is Missing, was published to critical acclaim in 2014, became a Sunday Times (London) bestseller and won the Costa First Novel Award. She lives in Norwich, England with her husband and daughter.

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