Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of What They Don’t Know by Nicole Maggi for review purposes through NetGalley, so thank you to them and the publishers.
What They Don’t Know is a story about two sixteen year old girls, Lise and Mellie, who both have a pretty big secret that they’re hiding. Mellie is from a very conservative and religious family. Her father is the mayor of their small town and he’s running for state senate on that pretty typical platform of pro-life, family values, and so on. Mellie is described as the perfect daughter and friend, always toeing the line and doing what she’s supposed to. She wears a purity ring and would have waited until marriage if she had been given a choice. Unfortunately, she wasn’t. At the start of the story, you find out that Mellie was raped and now she’s pregnant. Lise, on the other hand, seems to be Mellie’s opposite. She’s a feminist, organizes a Women’s Fair at her school, and volunteers at the local abortion clinic as an escort. She is deeply caring and loves to help people. She’s also the only person who seems to notice that Mellie is drowning and that she needs help, and Lise does everything she can to try help her.
The novel is told in epistolary format, as the it tells the story from both Lise and Mellie’s perspective primarily through entries in a journal given to them by their English teacher, Ms. Tilson. The story switches back and forth between these two perspectives, allowing the reader to get to know both girls and to understand where exactly they are coming from. The girls tell their stories in their own words and it is deeply moving. The journals are private to them, they are apparently only supposed to turn them in at the end of the school year, so the girls feel safe writing down exactly what they are going through and what they are feeling. I say this because based on what they were divulging, a teacher would have been obligated to report this to a counsellor. However, even though the journals are private, they feel reluctant to reveal even the deepest secrets until later on in the story, which leads the reader to feel suspense as they try and predict who it was that raped Mellie and also to try and guess what Lise is hiding that she can’t even tell her best friend and boyfriend.
Only a few months ago I was kind of turning up my nose at contemporary books, dismissing them as cutesy reads that didn’t do anything for me, but I feel chagrined about those thoughts now. There is so much more to this genre and I shouldn’t dismiss it because I think it’s cutesy, and even if this book had been cutesy, which it wasn’t, why would that matter? This book sucked me in and if I hadn’t asked to read it simply because it wasn’t a fantasy novel, I definitely would have missed out. This novel is definitely one of my favourite books that I’ve read this year. The subject matter is very serious because it deals with rape, an unwanted pregnancy and the decision of whether or not to get an abortion. The book deals really well with this subject matter and sort of shows the perspectives coming from both sides of the debate on abortion. I would say that the bias does lean towards the pro-choice side, but as that’s where I fall on the spectrum I really related to it. I also appreciated the journey that Mellie takes as she tries to make her choice.
I really enjoyed the characterization in this book. Both of the girls have unique voices and a unique perspective that they bring into the story. Their voices don’t get too mixed up and it’s usually easy enough to tell who is writing this particular section based on what they are talking about. I quickly grew to love the girls and deeply felt for the things that they were going through. I also found that even the side characters were well developed in this novel, which isn’t an easy task.
I don’t want to reveal too much about what actually happened in the book later on, because it’s better if you’re not totally spoiled, but I want to say that the female friendships were really fascinating to read. The author depicted all kinds of friendships, the good and the bad, and the good hit me like a punch in the gut, but the good ones made me so happy to see such positive representation.
I also had a deep emotional reaction to this book. It made me cry many times, and although I am the type of person who frequently gets emotional over books and movies, I always consider it a good sign when a book gets me so invested that I tear up. It packs a punch and I felt like it did it in a way that was easily relatable. I definitely consider this novel an important read and I highly recommend it.
What They Don’t Know by Nicole Maggi comes out on October 1st, 2018, and I highly recommend that you check it out when it hits the shelves.
Thank you again to NetGalley and the publishers for letting me read it prior to publication, and thank you to the author for writing an awesome story.