"Her One Mistake" by Heidi Perks
I often wonder what it would have been like to be a parent in the 80s or 90s.
Back before social media.
Before Mommy shaming became a certified Olympic sport.
I mean, I’m sure it had its challenges.
Parents back then had to entertain children for the interminably long time it took a VHS tape to actually fully rewind, for example.
But, I would think, it would have to have been a bit… less stressful?
It seems like it would have been liberating to raise your children without the constant infusion of criticism from the outside world — without those voices telling you that you’re doing it wrong, that you’re fucking up your kid in some irrevocable way, that every mom is such a mommier-fucking-mom than you are.
But, as a child of the 80s and a millennial mom of a 4th grader and a toddler, I’ll never know if I have it better or worse than my relatively contemporary predecessors.
Note: I am certain that I have it better than my early predecessors as I neither have to protect my children from wooly mammoths nor churn butter in the back of a Conestoga wagon while worrying about whether our last axel will break before we finish our grueling journey to the new frontier.
If there were ever any doubt in my mind that motherhood in the 20-10s is a full contact sport, this book would have cleared those right the fuck up.
In this newest work by new-to-me author Heidi Perks, both of our dual protagonists are mothers, though they go about the process of parenting in decidedly different ways.
Charlotte is a confident, relatively wealthy, mother of three who is in the process of divorcing her husband, Tom. She long-ago established herself in the mommy social circle and is generally well-respected.
Harriet is a dedicated mom to one — a four year old named Alice who she has never once let out of her sight — and wife to Brian. Though Harriet certainly tries hard — arguably, harder than Charlotte — she’s never quite fit in. The other moms see her as… different… in some indescribable way. Her only real friend is Charlotte, who she met five years ago when her then family of two moved into town.
As the book opens, Harriet arrives at Charlotte’s house to drop off Alice. Harriet — a helicopter parent in the making — is loath to leave her little girl, but it’s become necessary as she’s arranged to take a bookkeeping class so she can develop skills to put to use once Alice heads off to school.
Though Charlotte is — as it seems like Charlotte always is — relatively overwhelmed and harried, she wears the stress with grace and dismisses any concerns Harriet raises as to her ability to handle four children, all of whom she plans to take to a school fair.
When Charlotte arrives at the fair, however, it seems that Harriet’s concerns may have been more warranted that Charlotte allowed for. With four kids in tow, a headache developing and the siren’s call of social media leaving her palm itching to pick up her phone, Charlotte is inarguably overwhelmed.
She’s so overwhelmed, in fact, the she feels relief when three of the children — two of her own along with Alice, the youngest of the trio — decide to play on an inflatable.
With just one toddler to mind, Charlotte takes a seat in the shade and hops on Facebook, while keeping an eye on the ride on which the three children in her charge play.
After some time, her two children run off the ride and up to her, ready to move on to the next adventure.
But Alice isn’t with them.
Immediately concerned, though not yet alarmed, Charlotte sets off on a search, getting on the inflatable obstacle course herself and hunting for the little girl, who she suspects she will find huddled scared in a corner.
When her search proves fruitless, her panic level increases.
And when a more exhaustive search still yields no results, Charlotte realizes that it’s actually happened.
She’s really lost Alice.
One thing’s for sure: fucking losing someone else’s child is a way more egregious offense than failing to produce the lump-free fondant you needed to craft the tiny spikes necessary to transform cupcakes into stegosauruses for the child’s “three-rex” themed birthday party.
Everyone, but particularly every mom, will be immediately drawn in to this naturally compelling plot — which is pretty fucking flawlessly paced, I must say.
Like the plot, the characters were also on point.
I was particularly impressed by the fact that, despite being entirely different from each other, the two women central to this novel both had distinctive, endearing voices and authentic, believable motivations to act as they do.
Throughout the entire novel, I rooted for them both of them — Which was particularly difficult during times when they were at odds with each other.
Neither of the women was villainized, which required foregoing of the concept of a diametric black or white set up and the establishment of some significant gray areas.
As naturally engaging as the plot was, and as well-established and believable as the characters were, the real strength of this book was the twist.
For the, say, first 50% of this book, I was comfortable and calm — and, as a result, drinking at a reasonable rate. I was reading along thinking, “Okay, this is a good little thriller. I'm pretty sure I know where everything is going and I'm, like, 98% sure I know whodunit. But that's okay. Because it's still pretty good, even though it’s straightforward.”
And not just any, old, everyday, average, oh-okay-thats-a-little-surprising twist.
A Fucking world. Fucking changing. Fucking twist.
Yes. That's three intentional fuckings. That means it was some twisty AF shit.
Of all of the possibilities I pieced together in my head by that point, what happened wasn't one of them.
And I piece together possibilities like a fucking boss!
Because it came out of nowhere, yet was still so believable, this twist was a game changer.
From that point forward, I cranked up my chug meter* and dove headlong into the novel — and into my bottle of Malbec.
*This term was coined by my 9-year-old when he witnessed me drinking wine while reading a book and crying (I’m looking at your, “Ghosted”). His response, “Mommy, I’m sure that is sad, but if you’re getting that emotional about it, you may want to turn down your chug meter.
Honestly, pinpointing any weakness for this book is exceptionally difficult.
Though there is, however, one itsy bitsy thing that bothered me.
Honestly, it’s just the smallest little teensiest, tiniest, thing, but... The cover — AKA - the thing by which I initially judge all books always.
On my advanced release copy, the cover featured a teddy bear.
Like, I get it. We are trying to send the message that a child was taken so quickly - so violently - so against her will - that her tiny little fingers* couldn't even hold on to her beloved snuggle buddy.
*And, trust me, I know how tight little fingers can grip. I on the daily carry a tantruming two year old up the stairs to bed while he thrashes and grips at every spindle, every railing, his little talons come into contact with.
But, come on. Anyone who reads this will be left thinking, "Why wasn't it a hippo?" — the stuffed animal the little girl in this book cherished.
And, on the to-market copy, the cover shows a swing over a puddle?
Like… there were no swings.
There was no puddle.
But it's something that bothers me. Because a book this good deserves more than generic, uninspired, stock photography.
Given that my only point of criticism is the cover — something the author likely had little control over — it should come as no surprise that this, my first book of 2019, is a fucking winner.
It easily earns 5 out of 5 cocktails.
You should absolutely read it. It’s… dare I say… the next Gone Girl.
How do you feel about judging books by their cover? I know, I know… it’s maybe not the best practice… but I’m a visual person. Covers just make a difference to me. Do you judge books by their covers? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments, below.
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