Abi Knight gets the phone call every parent dreads. There’s been an accident: her daughter, Olivia, has been found at the bottom of an embankment near the ZigZag bridge. There’s a terrible wound; she’s sustained severe head trauma and is on life support. Thus, begins McDonald’s story of a mother and daughter whose secrets and pain are brought together by circumstance. Olivia was once just an average girl, with all the insecurities of a normal teenager.
Abi doesn’t know why Olivia was out in the middle of the night. As “the dark fog of anxiety swirls violently around her,” a retired paramedic tells Abi and her sister, Sarah, that they found Olivia on the bank next to the bridge. As Abi walks the hospital’s stark white hallways, part of her still clings to the faint hope that Oliva isn’t there--that it’s is all just some horrible mistake, “some silly clerical error.”
The kernel of Olivia’s tragedy may be linked to beautiful Kendall Montgomery. Olivia confesses to Kendall that her mother's entire life is dedicated to her,“[s]ometimes a bit too much.” As dark horror slides into her heart, Olivia discovers the truth: “I’d always trusted my mom. Trusted everything she said and obeyed everything she told me to so I’d never thought twice about questioning her.”
Under Portage Point’s wet gray skies, Abi finds herself alone, betrayed, confused by her daughter’s unexplained pregnancy and by Sarah’s dark family secret. As the detectives assigned to the case tell Abi that they’re “building a picture, gathering evidence” and that the investigative process will take time, Abi senses time running out: “right then I knew with a dark certainty that if I left it to them, I would never know the truth about what happened to Olivia.” Abi has spent her whole life hiding behind metaphorical walls. Now, as the painful reality of Olivia’s situation hits her, she realizes that she’s quite powerless. Perhaps kindly Anthony, who works for the Seattle police department, will help her find the truth about the night her daughter fell.
Kendall wants to ruin her father, a senator who isn't as charming or as powerful as he likes his constituents to think. For months, Abi hasn't allowed herself to think of that tragic, fateful night when Olivia fell or the terrible days that have followed. The novel is as much about mother/daughter love as it is about the world of possibility that Abi never understood before losing Olivia.
I cannot imagine this solidly blue state electing a Republican senator today. (Washington state has two Democratic senators, both women; according to Crosscut "nearly one in four Washington voters was not yet born the last time we had a Republican governor or U.S. senator.") This lapse in believability only slightly affects the overall impact of McDonald's compelling, beautifully written debut novel.