Release date: Dec 29, 2020
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (8/10)
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: The Wrong Family was written by author Tarryn Fisher, whose recent novel The Wives was a NYT bestseller and a Book of the Month pick for December 2019. The Wrong Family was published on December 29th, 2020 by Graydon House (in trade paperback format), with this glowing endorsement from NYT bestselling romance/thriller author Colleen Hoover: “The Wrong Family is your new obsession…you’ve never read anything like this.” The tagline of the novel reads, “A lifetime of deadly secrets, all under one roof.”
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Everyone in this novel has secrets: Winnie, the high-strung wife whose money came from her father’s untimely death, and who bought her dream house without bothering to seek her husband’s input or approval. Nigel, who seems to stay with Winnie more out of obligation than affection, even as he cleans up after their fights and comes home to her every day. Their teenage son Sam, who writes secret blog entries musing about whether he was adopted, and researches living on the street. And Juno, who recently moved in with the Crouch family after living on the streets for years, and has a secret past of her own.
If you know this [twist] from the start, don’t worry – you haven’t figured out the plot itself. You’re still in for a very layered and dynamic mystery story that doesn’t follow an “easy” contemporary thriller formula.”
Juno can’t help but overhear Winnie and Nigel’s arguments, and as she learns more about their pasts, she falls back into an old bad habit of her own: snooping with the intention of interfering in someone else’s life. At the same time, Winnie starts receiving messages and finding clues that someone in her own life has discovered her darkest secret – and is going to use it against her, even as everything else around her starts to fall apart.
Juno’s and Winnie’s lives are on a collision course, as unexpected secrets are revealed and dangerous threats are overlooked in their attempts to right the ship. Will the truths all come to light, or will more secrets be the answer to preserving everything they thought they wanted? And who will live to tell the tale when all is said and done?
MY THOUGHTS: This was my second book by Tarryn Fisher; I read The Wives in 2019 and enjoyed it, but the premise of this one was much more intriguing to me. I finished it in one day, so it’s safe to say that I found it to be an easy read. This is a dark story with a realistic ending, which is right up my alley – but if you’re on the fence, I’ll go into more detail below.
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the situation/secret of Juno’s – I can’t say more without possibly spoiling it for readers – is supposed to be a surprise until the end of part one (page 91 of 302), but to me it was very clear from page one what was actually happening. Nevertheless, I made myself promise to read the first 100 pages to see if there was more to this story than the eventual “reveal” – and I was NOT disappointed. If you know this truth from the start, don’t worry – you haven’t figured out the plot itself. You’re still in for a very layered and dynamic mystery story that doesn’t follow an “easy” contemporary thriller formula.
Fisher refers to herself as a writer “of villains,” and while I can’t argue with her own self-assessment, I think she’s just very in-touch with the darker side of humanity. Everyone in this novel has a “villainous” side, as it were, just as we all have the capability of hurting those closest to us. Whether it’s keeping your own deadly secrets (or someone else’s), or actively manipulating another person’s life – not to mention the cheating, or alcoholism, or stealing – each character grapples with their own demons and finds ways (sometimes neutral, sometimes terrible) of dealing with them.
Fisher doesn’t give us a neat thriller with a happy ending for everyone; in fact, I’m not convinced she believes in happy endings (at least for her thrillers).”
Some of us may connect a little too deeply with Fisher’s depiction of the reality of having someone who grapples with mental illness in our families. She unabashedly explores how family can, at its worst, enable and overlook the dangers of a family member battling a very real and serious mental illness. In fact, many of the situations in the novel could be rectified if the person going through it would stop seeking to find a quick-fix that gives peace and satisfaction immediately, versus confronting the reality of the situation head-on and working through it – even with pain and discomfort and loss – to find an actual long-term solution. Instead, we slap a band-aid on it and move on…and in certain cases, this has deadly consequences.
Lest I point out only the “heaviness” of the novel’s dark themes, I would like to emphasize how easy-to-read I found this book. It has twists and turns I wasn’t expecting, which always makes me incredibly happy (especially after thinking I’d guessed the major plot point on page one). It also bounces back and forth between the perspectives of Juno and Winnie, as we learn their past struggles and what led them to the spiraling situations they currently find themselves in.
Fisher doesn’t give us a neat thriller with a happy ending for everyone; in fact, I’m not convinced she believes in happy endings (at least for her thrillers). She writes a much more realistic, brutal, confrontational-yet-satisfying ending that provides the reader with a clear idea of the consequences of each character’s actions…whether they be equal to, or greater than, the choices that led each person to their reckoning. I am 100% for this type of story and its ending, and I will absolutely be reaching for the next Fisher novel. But if happy endings are your thing…….maybe skip this one.