Thursday, June 19, 2014
That Night by Chevy Stevens
Published June 2014 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.
Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.
Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.
I haven't read any of Chevy Stevens' previous books but have heard enough good that when I saw this one available, I was eager to give her a try. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be a real struggle for me. Stevens takes on a lot in That Night including themes of bullying, family relationships, problems with the justice system and surviving life as an ex-con. Perhaps it was just that it was too much; almost none of it really worked for me, mostly feeling forced and predictable.
It started with Toni and my inability to care about her. As a teen, it's understandable that she might be rebellious; at the same time she can't seem to understand why her parents have a problem with her. I was a rebellious teen who had also grown up close to my parents so while I could relate to Toni in that regard the relationship between the she and her parents just didn't feel real to me. In Stevens' hands, Toni wanted to be mad at her mother for not ever believing her while at the same time never giving her mother any reason to believe in her and never giving her mother a chance to connect. The parents felt like stock characters - the mother who played favorites, never gave Toni the benefit of the doubt and never really listened and the father who meant well but wouldn't stand up to the mother.
They weren't alone in feeling stock to me; in prison there were the irredeemable inmates and the long-timer who turns out to have a heart of gold, in the "real-world" the bullies never showed any softness and the police were equally bullies.
Stevens made much of Toni's growing anger throughout the book. She was an angry girl before the murder (understandably) and became even more angry when she was convicted (even more understandably). To some extent, this came out in prison where she became known for being something of a thug (which, strangely, didn't seem to extend her sentence which I can't help thinking it would have in reality). During prison, she managed to learn to contain it and play by the rules but the anger was always brewing underneath and then...nothing. Despite all that happened to her when she was released from prison, there was never any explosion of that anger or a sudden revelation or growth that soothed it.
So often as I read, I thought to myself "well, of course, that happened." But I must admit that, in the end, I did not see the truth of Nicole's murder coming. Well, sort of, but not the big twist. In that regard, it was worth working to the end of the book.
Because I haven't read any other books by Stevens, I can't compare this one to know if fans might still enjoy it. And because there are so many fans, I won't rule out trying another book by Stevens.