Hodder & Stoughton | 2020 (23 January) | 329p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book
It’s 12 years since the friendship ended between Beth and Flora, since they lost touch. So much time has passed that Beth wonders what happened to her former best friend and her children. One day a perfect opportunity comes along to find out and Beth cannot resist it. Her teenage son Ben is playing football at a ground that is no distance at all from the grand house that Flora and her husband Lewis moved to all those years ago. Beth is waiting outside hoping for a glimpse when a car drives through the open gates and out climbs Flora and with her are her two children Thomas and Emily. But Thomas and Emily are exactly as they were 12 years before. They’re still small children, they’re even wearing the same clothes that Flora remembers, and Flora seems upset. How is this possible? Why haven’t they aged and what is wrong with Flora? From that moment on Beth becomes obsessed with discovering the truth. There is nothing on Earth that will stop her.
Haven’t They Grown has an incredible premise. As soon as I heard it I knew I had to read it. Talk about a compelling read! The novel is effectively written as a puzzle. It’s set up right at the beginning and every page afterwards contributes to the pieces slowly coming together in a way that I could not guess. And from the very first page I knew I could not stop reading until I knew. The story is written in the first person – this is Beth’s story and it’s her obsessive, determined voice, thinking aloud, that drives this novel on. It works extremely well.
The puzzle is what matters here above all else, including character, but, even so, I really enjoyed getting to know Beth, her husband Dom and their teenage kids Ben and Zannah, especially Zannah. They feel like a normal family (almost). There are no issues, no angst, just a loving family who talk normally to each other. Their dialogue is great! It feels natural and is often humorous. Dom and Beth have a wonderful relationship and, even though her obsession can irritate him, he is supportive. As for Zannah, she should be revising for exams but she’s far too caught up helping her mum. I loved all this. It’s an extraordinary premise but our main characters feel believable.
There are less believable aspects to the novel as the plot is unravelled. On that, though, I’m not going to say a word. I knew nothing about the story beyond the premise when I read it and that’s all any reader should know. I did find aspects of it unconvincing, especially in the final third, but as always that’s just my opinion. I still found it a compelling read and I loved Zannah. How pleasant and unsual to read a novel that features a perfectly normal, likeable and funny teenage girl! This is one of those books that it’s very likely you’ll just gobble up, hunting for the answers to a fantastic puzzle that really makes this thriller stand out.