This multi-faceted story is all about uncovering, secrets, and what we'll do to keep ours covered while digging other peoples' up.
While ninety-year-old Margaret is happy to live in seclusion, when a neighbor moves in across the lake, she begins to develop an unhealthy obsession with the woman and her small boy—Margaret is just sure Jennifer is hiding something and she's bound and determined to figure out what it is.
The narrative switches between the perspectives of Margaret and Jennifer and they are actually pretty similar characters from the outset. While it is apparent from the beginning that Jennifer is running from somewhere, she seems a bit traumatized and is definitely reluctant to let anyone into her and her young son Milo's lives.
Similarly, Margaret is a recalcitrant old woman who makes it clear she doesn't need anyone for anything. She doesn't really have any family left and her only friend seems to be the librarian who picks out her crime fiction novels every other week, but even that relationship is a bit one-sided.
So what is it about this new neighbor that so intrigues Margaret? It might be the influence of all those books that gets her to begin snooping about her wary neighbor, but once their relationship opens up, Margaret seems to be the one spilling all her secrets rather than finding them all out.
The old woman's past reminiscences as a nurse in World War II is interesting and well-researched, but to me it always felt like a slightly misplaced side-plot, especially since I thought her secret—a twist revealed late in the book—was fairly obvious from the beginning.
More interesting and relevant is Jennifer's interaction with her new friend, Megan, who she meets through the preschool that her son attends. As we find out more and more about Jennifer's past, why Milo's dad isn't around, and what dark things may have happened to their family, we also see Megan's problems with her husband.
Seeing the instability of Megan's relationship with her husband Sebastian throws into sharp relief what Jennifer's own situation must have looked like on the outside. And all the shades of gray that are involved are pretty intricate!
What happened to Jennifer isn't a clear-cut case that made me definitively say one way or the other who was in the right or in the wrong. And that is why tying the old narrative to Megan's current day story was so interesting—it was even easier to see both sides of the argument in the case of Megan and her husband, as both of those characters are active in the book and have a say in creating their characters.
Not so for Tommy, Jennifer's husband. But you'll have to read the book to find out what happened to their relationship and what she is running from. Then you can decide for yourself. But I'll warn you, Jennifer isn't as simple and quiet as she appears to be.
This book did an excellent job of revealing all the layers that can be within a person. Like a murky pond, there can be so much movement and color shifting and changing below the surface, but the top of the water will barely show a ripple. People are just the same.
This book is a quiet, slow-burning, thoughtful, contained sort of thriller, but there are definitely surprises that you won't see coming and questions that will be left unanswered, which is true to life and often so much more interesting than an ending with a neatly tied bow.
Get your copy of The New Neighbor
Find out more about the author, Leah Stewart
Find out more about the publisher, Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.