REVIEW: THE PERFECT MOTHER, BY NINA DARNTON

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The nightmare begins for the Lewis family with a phone call in the middle of the night.

Mark and Jennifer Lewis have been living a comfortable life in Philadelphia: Mark with his law practice, and Jennifer managing the home and priding herself on how well their three children are doing. Emma, age 20, has been an exchange student in Spain for a few months; Lily is 16 and doing well; and so is Eric, age 8.

Their illusions of the perfect life are dispelled that night when Emma’s call reveals that she has been arrested and that a young man has been killed. Her boyfriend Paco, with whom she was living, has fled. And much of what Emma has been doing and how she has been living are in direct opposition to what her parents have believed.

By the time Jennifer gets to Spain, after Mark had arranged for a lawyer over there, she is caught up in the chaos of a legal system and a culture that are foreign to her and a daughter who is alternately sullen and verbally abusive, or pleading and emotional.

Emma’s story does not add up, and she refuses to change it or cooperate in any way, which leads to an incarceration that seems unlikely to end any time soon.

With the help of a private investigator, Jennifer begins to find answers to what must have happened, but persuading Emma to cooperate will take a lot more than her best efforts.

What unexpected breakthroughs will occur to finally turn things around? Will the blessed solution finally bring peace to the family? With freedom near at hand, the nightmare is over. Or is it?

Back home, Emma seems to thrive on her new celebrity and is going on with her life as if nothing had occurred. Watching her daughter’s behavior, Jennifer must ask herself some hard questions: What responsibility must a mother face when her child goes astray, and what long lasting effect will all of it have on her, as well as the child?

Just when I thought everything had finally fallen into place, a last piece of information arrives on their doorstep, with a secret piece of the puzzle that will leave Jennifer blindsided, wondering what, if anything, she should do. A stunning reveal that, in light of other tidbits of information, should not have really surprised me. The Perfect Mother was an engaging read that kept me turning pages, and even though I found Emma unlikeable, and Jennifer took on too much of the blame for her daughter’s behavior, I liked it enough to award 4.5 stars.

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