Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: 'You'll Never Know, Dear' by Hallie Ephron

Elisabeth (Lis) Strenger has felt guilty for close to forty years, since she was a seven-year-old child whose mother asked her to supervise her younger sister while they played in their yard. When a puppy caught Lis's attention, she chased it and forgot about four-year-old Janey. Subsequently, her sister disappeared and has not been seen or heard from since. Lis's mother, Sorrel Woodham, whom everyone calls Miss Sorrel, does not blame Lis for the tragedy. In fact, even after four decades have passed, she firmly believes that her long-lost daughter will return.

"You'll Never Know Dear," by Hallie Ephron, is a thriller with a Southern gothic flavor. It takes place in Bonsecours, a South Carolina town where wisteria blooms, trusting people leave their doors unlocked, and meddlesome neighbors gossip about one another but lend a helping hand when needed. Adding a creepy dimension to the goings-on are the lifelike dolls custom-made by Miss Sorrel and her best friend, Evelyn Dumont: "Each face was a carefully sculpted and painted portrait of a real child." Some of these have become expensive collector's items that "were as valued for their eerily realistic features as for their scarcity."

One day, a stranger brings Miss Sorrel a battered old doll that the elderly woman recognizes at once. This meeting sets in a motion a series of events that will have life-changing consequences. Ephron creates colorful and intriguing characters and explores such themes as the power of nightmares to destroy one's peace of mind, and the constructive and destructive ways in which individuals handle adversity. The author is, for the most part, a proficient writer who generates an appropriately spooky and suspenseful atmosphere. The ending is flawed, however; Ephron wraps up the proceedings with a predictable and melodramatic conclusion. This quibble aside, "You'll Never Know, Dear" is an engrossing and fast-paced novel that will hold readers' attention while they try to figure out who is behind all of the mayhem.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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