Book review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

These Things Hidden is an interesting and well-told story. Starting with Allison’s early release from prison for good behaviour, the narrative gathers pace slowly, revealing how her fateful actions on a night five years ago are still affecting the lives of the four main protagonists.

Allison was the blue-eyed girl of the small Linden Falls community. The darling of her parents and teachers, she could do no wrong, until that fateful night… Now, she is out of prison and in a halfway house, where the rest of the women are unable to reconcile with her heinous crime. Low on confidence and abandoned by her family, Allison gets a new lease of life when Caroline offers her a part time job at Bookends.

But when Allison sees Joshua, Caroline’s adopted son, the past comes rushing back. A past that Bryn is working hard to forget. Unable to take Allison’s place in her parent’s heart, heckled and stared at as “the killer’s sister,” Bryn leaves Linden Falls to stay with her grandmother, where she looks after broken and maimed animals. By fixing those broken creatures, she hopes she can mend herself, torn as she is by guilt over the events of that fateful night, when she helped Allison give birth to her child while their parents were out for the night.

No one knows of the child except for Charm, sister of Allison’s boyfriend Christopher, and Gus, her step-father. Allison left her son at Charm’s house, saying her parents knew nothing about her pregnancy and that she couldn’t care for the child. Torn between the love she felt for the baby boy and tired as she was looking after Gus, who was battling with lung cancer, Charm was forced to make a difficult choice. She left the baby at the fire station, hoping that he would find a loving family.

Joshua gets that family with Caroline and her husband Jonathan. But with Allison working at Bookends and determined to re-establish contact with Bryn, things are about to come to a dramatic head. Only the two sisters know exactly what happened on the night Joshua and his twin sister were born, and the secrets are about to explode.

As the story unfolds, so does Allison’s character – she isn’t the two-dimensional cardboard cut-out she is initially made out to be. There are hints of a dysfunctional family and a younger sister who is deeply disturbed. Heather also does a wonderful job of exploring motherhood from the point of view of the four protagonists. Allison’s dysfunctional relationship with her mother leads her to be detached from her own children, as she refuses to even acknowledge that she is pregnant. Brynn, who lives in her sister’s shadow, is given a few opportunities to rise to a mothering role, but her failure leads to her mental complexities and to her outpouring of love for crippled animals. Charm is already playing the role of caregiver to her step father, and is unable to take on the added responsibility of looking after a baby herself, but even after giving him up, she checks in on him to see that he is well and happy. And then there is Caroline, who wants nothing more than to be a mother, and fulfills that role well. Her only shortcoming, if you can call it that, would be her over-possessiveness and the extra care she takes of Joshua.

On the whole, this is an interesting read. While you might be able to guess some of the plot twists, you won’t be able to guess them all! The writing is wonderful and the plot development and characters are well-rounded. You won’t regret picking this one up!

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