Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: What Happened to Hannah

Summary: As a teenager, Hannah Benson ran away from home in order to save herself. Now, twenty years later, the past comes calling and delivers life-changing news: her mother and sister have passed away, leaving Hannah the guardian of her fifteen-year-old niece. 

Returning home to bitter memories and devastating secrets, Hannah must overcome her painful past to pave a future with her niece, the last best chance at a family for both of them. She begins to create a new, happier life with her niece and rekindles a relationship with Grady Steadman, one of the few people she’s ever called a friend. 

But she can’t forget what she cannot forgive, or lay to rest those ghosts that will not die. Will love and trust—and the truth—give her the strength to stand her ground and fight for what she deserves? -- William Morrow

WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH by Mary Kay McComas sounded like a book that I would normally love. It had an interesting female protagonist, a dysfunctional family, and lots of secrets. Many bloggers seemed to really like this novel; however, I thought it was just okay. I can't put my finger on the reason why I didn't appreciate WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH like I had hoped; and there definitely wasn't anything inherently wrong with this novel. All I can come up with is that I just didn't connect to the characters.

WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH tells the story of Hannah, a woman who has to return home and assume responsibility for her teenage niece after the deaths of her mother and sister. To complicate matters, Hannah hasn't been back to her hometown since she ran away twenty years ago. Not only is Hannah unfamiliar with taking care of a teen (or any child for that matter), she also has to deal with an ex-boyfriend who still cares about her as well as the secrets that she's been keeping from her troubled childhood.

I have dreaded writing this review because I know I won't be able to articulate my thoughts very well; and as a result, I've procrastinated for weeks. I feel it's a cop-out to say that the novel didn't resonate with me, but ultimately, that's about all I can say. Since WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH was such a character-driven novel with so much emotion, I feel like I needed to connect with Hannah to fully appreciate it. The novel started with a very unemotional (almost cold) Hannah and I just never warmed up that much to her despite all of the ways her character evolved throughout the course of the novel. I'm usually not this harsh about a character so maybe it was just my mood when I read this book?

Another slight issue that I had with this story was the secret of  "What Happened to Hannah?" I don't know if it was be design, but I pretty much figured out Hannah's story early on in the novel. I certainly don't think that I'm particularly astute, but there were so many hints that I wasn't surprised by events in her past. By the time the secret was ultimately revealed, I thought it was almost anti-climatic.

I'm sure I sound kind of negative in this review and I don't mean to bash WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH. This novel definitely isn't a book without some merit. In fact, I was very impressed with Ms. McComas' writing style. I thought she did a very good job of developing her characters and I liked how authentic they all were. I also thought she managed to effectively capture the dynamics of some pretty complex relationships.

Since my opinion of this novel is definitely different than most other readers, I highly recommend it for a book club discussion. I'd love to sit down with my friends and discuss Hannah's behavior. I have a feeling that this novel with resonate with most women much more than it did with me. There is a reading guide available with seven very interesting questions, but I think those questions might be just a starting point for many groups. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, regret, second chances, hate, loss, and forgiveness.

While WHAT HAPPENED TO HANNAH didn't exactly "wow" me, I think I might be alone with that opinion. Fans of women's fiction and stories about dysfunctional families might want to give this one a try.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Jenn's Bookshelves said...

You aren't alone! I didn't love this book either, mainly because it was so much like other books with a similar plot/storyline. It wasn't memorable for me. That's not to say I didn't like it at all, but will I remember it months down the road? Not likely.

Serena said...

I haven't read this book, but I don't think a book can wow everyone.

bermudaonion said...

It may have been a matter of the wrong book at the wrong time.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Hah! If I put off a review for several weeks I can't even do it because I will have forgotten the book! LOL

Sandy Nawrot said...

No need to apologize for a less than glowing review. The premise can sound fantastic, but if the characters don't come alive for you, there isn't much you can do to warm up to such a book. And as far as mysteries are concerned, I guess I don't really mind if they are easy to figure out (perfect example is Joshilyn Jackson's latest) as long as I enjoy the journey of the characters and their discovery. I appreciate your honesty with this one!

Laura Fabiani said...

This one brought me back to my high school days for some reason, and I could relate in some way to the characters. Yes, the secret was pretty obvious right from the beginning but I still liked the journey. I could relate to your struggle with the review of this book, though. It happened to me last week with a book that everyone loved but me.