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Book review: <i>Dear Daughter</i> by Elizabeth Little

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Book review: Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

the cover of the book

Jane Jenkins: socialite. Rule-breaker. Bitch. Murderer?

The story

Janie Jenkins was incarcerated at just seventeen, tried as an adult for that most ancient of crimes: matricide. Ten years later, the devotion and persistence of her lawyer, Noah, got her released and the charges against her dropped, but public sentiment was still very much against her. Hiding out anonymously in a hotel with only her lawyer for company, Janie has one goal – finding out who killed her mother and clearing her name.

The evidence against Janie is overwhelming and there are many people still convinced of her guilt, so much so that one particular blogger has offered a hefty reward for her whereabouts. Jane has only one clue: the night of her mother's death, she overheard an argument between her mother and a stranger. Unfamiliar names were thrown about. Jane's memories are ten years old, but they're all she has.

Noah fixes her up with a new name and identity, and Janie gets on a train to middle America, their rendezvous point. But Janie has other plans. She's heading to a town she found after years of research, a town she thinks holds the answers to her mother's murder. But has she bitten off more than she can chew?

The style

Dear Daughter makes for very easy reading. It certainly didn't feel like nearly 400 pages, and I found myself wanting to get back to it frequently. At first, it was the main character I was drawn to. Written in the first person, Dear Daughter is all Janie, with the occasional email, text message, or excerpt from various news articles or blog interspersed through the story. It's not a new writing tactic, but in this instance, an effective one. I found my fascination with Janie difficult to reconcile, initially, because she is deeply, deeply unlikable as a character. She's not the sort of person I would be friends with, or the sort of person who even has friends. She's awful. She's like an overly tough and much smarter tabloid girl, famous only for being famous. And her narrative voice seems to be mainly bravado. She can't be that tough, that bad, that heartless. She did just spend ten years in jail, but...

And she isn't. She becomes – because she doesn't just give the story away – a well developed character, with weaknesses and flaws, and by the end I was definitely on Janie's side. I still wouldn't hang out with her, necessarily, but I wanted her to succeed. Janie's voice is brash, she's preoccupied by etiquette and mind-games, but I still liked her. She reads casually, and very easily. I hate to draw this comparison, because it seems like a mean thing to do, but Janie's easy narrative, her wit, the way her thoughts are given to the reader – I'm pretty sure is the kind of thing EL James was hoping to achieve in the hideous 50 Shades. THE COMPARISON ENDS THERE, DON'T FREAK OUT. Elizabeth Little is MUCH, MUCH better at writing, CLEARLY.

What I enjoyed most about Dear Daughter was the way it spoke about the complexities of people, and their personalities. This was all achieved by using Janie's voice to tell the narrative the way it was. By interspersing blogs, stories, opinions and testimony about Janie in between her words, we were allowed to read in between the lines – a person is always so much more that what others are allowed to see. Obviously, people in the media suffer this phenomena far worse than those of us living in private, but every person is a seething mess of contradictions and I like how nicely that construction of a complex character is developed here.

Who is this book for?

The key to this story is that it's easy to read, and it's engaging. It could be read with maximum distractions around and you'll still get through it no problems. I'd definitely put it on a holiday reading list.

In short

Title: Dear Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Little
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670016389
Year published: 2014
Pages: 384
Genre(s): Fiction
Review Type: