This is my first book request from the author of the book! A thank you to Fiona MacBain for this opportunity.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for this book. The title, Daughter, Disappeared just seemed like an awkward phrase and after reading the book I still think it deserves a better title. However, I liked the storyline and plot a lot.
The story is essentially about a mother who has to travel to Tunisia to fetch her runaway daughter. This book received different reactions at different points in the story. At first, I thought I was going to give it a 4- 4 and a half star, but then it crept down slowly to a 3 star. Then there was this point where it seemed that Fiona was saying biological families are stronger than adopted families.
Before I go into detail about this book, let me tell you about the journey I had with it. From the first few chapters, I loved the plot and the sense of the story that I was getting. I originally thought I was going to give this a 4 to 4 and a half, but then the lack of detail in things slowly crept the rating down to a 3. Then something really frustrating happened. Fiona – probably unintentionally – seemed to suggest that biological families are stronger than adopted families and straight away the 3 dropped down to 1. If the protagonist’s sister never knew their mother, then I highly doubt that she would feel so close to the birth mother over her adopted parents. However, this conflict was eventually resolved at the end with the protagonist’s daughter and so it became a 3 and a half star. With that said, let’s start the review.
Writing and Plot
I loved the style of the writing and the grammar was great. It was really well written and the plot did keep you guessing. However, there are a few weaknesses. One is that there is a lot of exposition rather than showing. Therefore, I struggle to visualise the story and the world the character is experiencing.
I also felt that the chapters were written in the wrong order, and because of this, some suspense was killed too soon. The story is written in two time periods and there were times where I was reading a chapter set in the present day and felt there were no surprises because it was covered in the previous chapter set in the past, but this is my own preference and is not necessary. Others may like the order in which this was written.
I also believe that the wrong narrative was used. The story is written in third person – omniscient narrative, which can work, but because all the feelings were told I felt the narrative would have been written better in the first person. That is just my personal opinion though and is linked to the first issue, exposition over showing.
I liked the ending, it was one of the more visual scenes in the book and was beautiful but probably could do with less dialogue. I got a real sense of what the author was trying to do. It is here that the biological over adoptive issue is resolved and I become aware that the author is actually saying all family matters, biological or not.
I liked the characters, I felt like I could see and understand them but I couldn’t connect to them. This is because of the narrative used, preventing me from seeing inside their head, and because their thought process was told rather than shown. An example of this is a sentence roughly 40 pages in:
Jane was nervous of going straight to Crystal’s house and announcing out of the blue that she was her long lost sister…
Anyone would be nervous, and if you have ever had anyone say they are a long lost relative to you (I have), it would be out of the blue. What would have made this sentence better would have been if the reader was shown Jane was nervous. Body language like rubbing the back of your neck, and hopping on your feet are useful here. Dialogue can also hint at feelings, which is another minor flaw I’ll touch upon later. There were many sentences like this, and because the feeling was told rather than shown, I didn’t get the same feelings as the protagonist. Never be afraid to get closer and analyse every body movement this emotion makes them feel.
As mentioned previously, I also found their loyalties to different characters odd. I understand Jane’s attachment to her mother, but because Crystal was adopted, I would have assumed that she didn’t know who her birth mother was, and even if she did, would have named her husband’s ship after her adopted mother, because she was the one that raised her for 18 years. I also found it too coincidental that Jane and Crystal had the same interests; mainly art. I think it’d have been better if they were binary opposites as this would have added more tension, However, there is plenty of tension between Jane and Crystal without them having different interests.
Jane sees how Crystal is treated as a housewife, expected to be only there for her husband. His slave physically, mentally and sexually and due to Jane’s cultural upbringing, she interferes, trying to give Crystal extra freedom. At the same time, Jane has tension with her love interest, Ali. Being the sister-in-law to a man who is thought to have been involved with the disappearance of Ali’s brother, Ali originally gets close to find out what really happened. He tries to step back when he realises that they were really falling in love but when Jane finds out the truth she is already pregnant with his baby. There is also tension between Crystal and Ali because of the missing brother.
I love how much tension and conflict is in this story, it is great and it kept me reading the rest of the story. All the characters develop through their experiences, but Crystal is the most interesting one and I think this is fitting as Crystal is the only one that stays naivé and innocent to what is going on but still struggles as much. Being married at a young age, she is not sure what is right and wrong in a relationship, so some of her experiences have given her depression. The depression is also related to an incident when she first arrived at Tunisia which suggests that even though she is innocent she is aware that something is wrong, even though she isn’t sure what it is. When her pregnancy is coming to a close end, Crystal decides to run with her sister to make sure the baby has a better life.
By the end, I liked the characters. I liked what Fiona tried to illustrate and how unique each one of them was. I also loved the circle that was implemented. How Ana, the protagonist’s daughter, seemed to repeat the same mistakes as her mother.
As a writer myself, I find dialogue the most challenging part of writing a story. It’s hard to get right because there is so much that needs to be considered. How each character talks differently, what makes them unique, how to phrase things, the spoken grammar of the character and how much to say. Fiona considers all of these, and for the most part, the dialogue is really well written. There are one or two lines I personally would have cut, but it’s not a major issue.
The one issue that I had with the dialogue was that there wasn’t any when there could have been and perhaps should have been in some cases. What I mean is that two or three times, Jane says that she told someone a story of events or something similar, but this could have been shown with the dialogue rather than be told. So really the issue is another show, don’t tell issue rather than a dialogue issue.
Overall, this isn’t a bad book. It’s good, I like it but like many books, there are improvements that can be made. I think for a first book, it is good and the ‘show don’t tell’ technique is something that is developed as writing skills improve. The storyline is engaging and intriguing and the characters all stand out as unique, which many new writers usually struggle with.
I am really looking forward to reading Fiona’s next book, Glasdrum.