I am always looking for a good buddy read so when Chelsea (from The Suspense Is Thrilling Me) and I discovered that we both had Emma in the Night, by Wendy Walker, on our TBR lists, we decided to dive in and tackle this upcoming thriller. Instead of writing up our own individual reviews, we thought it would be fun to craft a sort of joint review that reads discussion style to change things up a bit! We took some general book discussion questions, answered them and we hope this format will give you an insight into what our discussions are like whenever we read a book together!
Before we get down to business, here is a synopsis of Emma in the Night.
One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.
Keep reading to see what Chelsea and I thought when we read Emma in the Night.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE STRUCTURE AND STYLE OF THE WRITING?
CHELS- Honestly I loved it! The alternating POV was a nice touch; it kept things fresh and forced me to pay attention while reading, rather than starting to skim. Each phrase held some importance to the overall big picture and I didn’t want to miss any of it. The sections from Cass after returning home are choppy, immature, and somewhat confusing; the fact that Walker chose to break these up with narrative from Abby, the psychologist assigned to the missing girls’ case, gave the reader pieces of structure, balance, and straight forward internal dialogue, which was a really nice touch.
SAM- Chelsea, you and I were absolutely on the same page with this one; since the novel is told between alternating chapters from Cass, one of the missing girls, and a forensic psychologist, Abby Wilder, parts felt totally jumbled. I know I messaged Chelsea right away and was like “uh, not sure if I like this” but by the end of the first half, I noticed how much I loved the narrative juxtaposition between the two characters; Abby was very clinical and specific in her narration, focusing on details and obsessing over the case. On the other hand, the chapters from the point of view of Cass were jumbled and confusing. She was one of the most unreliable narrators I have come across. This was so smart on the part of Walker, I truly felt as if I was gaining insight into two completely different mindsets and it made this book very special.
WHAT IS MOTIVATING THE ACTIONS OF THE CHARACTERS IN THE STORY? WHAT DO THE SUB-CHARACTERS WANT FROM THE MAIN CHARACTER AND WHAT DOES THE MAIN CHARACTER WANT WITH THEM?
SAM- This is a question that I feel lies at the core of the book. There are so many moving pieces to the puzzle in this story; the sisters, the mother, the other family members. Everyone plays a part and I felt a constant struggle the whole time I was reading this novel; I really didn’t like any of these characters. They all felt unreliable and like they had their own interests at heart. Like you said, there is a whole plethora of shady business unfolding between the pages and it seems like a giant power struggle is at the core. I felt like the whole story was completely character centric. I don’t know about you Chels, but I felt like the “mystery” was sort of overshadowed by these amazing characters. Walker could have done pretty much whatever to the plot, it could have been a trip to the grocery story, and I still would have wanted to watch these character relationships unfold.
CHELS- HAH! That is the million dollar question, right? I think Sam nailed it above when she mentioned both the unlikable characters and how they overshadowed the mystery in a good way. I can’t say much, as I’m treading a minefield of spoilers, but I will say that there are ulterior motives scattered throughout the novel. Each character wants something from another, but I think what stands out most is the depiction of a massive, all-consuming power struggle going on between every character in the girls’ families. There are a plethora of deplorable characters here, and each one seems to want to have control over the others. It’s interesting, as the reader has pre-conceived notions in the beginning stages of the story, to see how these unravel into new conclusions by the final page.
WHAT WERE THE DYNAMICS OF “POWER” BETWEEN THE CHARACTERS? HOW DID THAT PLAY A FACTOR IN THEIR INTERACTIONS?
SAM- I think Walker did something really amazing in this book by using NPD as a vessel to discuss power/female power. If you watch any Criminal Minds or read any crime book, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is discussed ALL. THE. TIME. so it was cool to see her bring something that is normally catalogued in the “serial killer realm” and apply it to a sort of “everyday” situation. Really, power is at the core of the novel. Power over relationships, power over perception, power over situations so I think it continuously affected the characters and their interactions.
CHELS- This entire book was a narrative on power dynamics and how they are exchanged through a series of events, some large and some small. If you’ve read anything about this story at all, chances are you’ve seen that Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or NPD) plays a huge role in this book. We see this disease in it’s purest, most evil form; Walker takes us on ride giving us full access to the many levels of “messed up” that this disorder causes, not just for the individual with the diagnosis, but also the entire family surrounded. Can a narcissist ever be cured, or will they only continue to get worse over time? Will the offspring of said narcissist develop the disorder as well? If so, can the cycle ever be broken? All of these questions were addressed in the story, as well as a nice unravelling of the balance of family power while being shifted in multiple scenarios.
HOW HAVE THE CHARACTERS CHANGED BY THE END OF THE BOOK?
CHELS- Oh Boy. I think it would be easier (and much faster) to tell you all the ways they DIDN’T change. All joking aside, one of the things I loved about this book was the fact that it remained character driven while keeping a steady heap of suspense and intrigue in the mix. The heart of this story was character based, but it was never boring, slow, or dull. I’d like to think of it as light on action but heavy in the suspense department. I can’t say much about the transformation of all the characters, but my view and knowledge of them had completely shifted from beginning to end. Sam and I had a few pieces figured out here and there, but for me at least, I was pretty taken aback by the big reveal. The most fun part of a buddy read is discussing theories and guesses with each other, and we had a couple of guesses that were close and similar but were the result of different outcomes.
SAM- BAHAHA for real. The characters remained pretty steadfast throughout I would say. Like Chelsea said, we had a whole bunch of theories surrounding the characters and what we thought and where we thought the plot would go and Walker was able to surprise us!
HAVE YOU READ ANY OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR? WERE THEY COMPARABLE TO YOUR ENJOYMENT TO THIS ONE?
CHELS- I read the author’s previous novel ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN last year and loved it! I felt both novels were on par with each other; I’m at the point that I’ll read anything she comes out with next!
SAM- I didn’t even put two and two together that EMMA IN THE NIGHT was the sophomore novel by Wendy Walker. Last summer I was seeing ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN pretty much EVERYWHERE. I bought it and it has been sitting on my shelf ever since. I am actually glad that I went into this one blind and without any knowledge of her previous work because I do find that I am a harsher critic when I read an author’s second novel! Now that I have read EMMA IN THE NIGHT, I do know for sure that I’ll be going back to read ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN ASAP because I loved her writing style!
I think it is fairly obvious that Chelsea and I were both into this one. Between the flawed characters and an intriguing mystery, I don’t think you can ask for much more in a summer mystery. Highly recommended! Have you read Emma In The Night already? How did you find it?
What did you think of this type of discussion? Would you mind if our next buddy read had spoilers? Let us know what you think!