Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.
Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night. -- St. Martin's Press
I've been wanting to read a book by Chevy Stevens for some time now, and I'm pretty sure I even have a few of her novels on my bookshelves. I decided to start with her latest story THAT NIGHT which has already received some pretty special blurbs from Harlan Coben and Lee Child -- not too shabby!
THAT NIGHT tells the story of Toni Murphy, a woman who has spent the last fifteen years in prison for murdering her sister. Toni admits that she wasn't always an "easy" teenager -- she fought with her mom, she couldn't understand her "perfect" sister, and she desperately wanted to spend all of her free time with Ryan; however, she wasn't a murderer.
Evidence was strong against Toni and Ryan, especially when four girls who bullied Toni spoke out at the trial; and the two were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Naturally, prison changed Toni but she was eventually granted parole and returned to her home town. Toni was determined to stay out of trouble and that included no contact with Ryan.
Ryan, however, has different ideas and contacts Toni. He wants them to work together to prove their innocence and that means contacting the girls who hated Toni in high school. Toni is torn between violating parole and discovering the truth behind her sister's murder. Toni does her best to stay away from Ryan, but when she realizes that her life will never be "normal," she decides to begin her own investigation into the truth.
I really enjoyed THAT NIGHT and it was a quick read, but I don't know that I absolutely loved it. I did like it a lot though. I appreciated Ms. Stevens' writing style and I liked her characters. I also thought her portrayal of prison and then Toni's time on parole were interesting. However, it was her exploration of bullying that really impressed (and scared me!) In more than a few ways, it reminded me of a Megan Abbott book but maybe that's because THE FEVER is so fresh in my mind!
One thing that struck me as being a little odd is that I actually felt as if the book was geared towards a YA audience -- maybe because Toni was an adolescent for half of the story. The book went back and forth between present day when Toni was on parole trying to start over and the past when Toni was in high school. Even in the present when Toni was 34, I still felt as if she weren't truly an adult. That's not a knock on the writing or character development. Rather, I think it's probably very possible considering that Toni spent 15 years in prison and wasn't close to anyone including her family.
I appreciated how the novel went back and forth between the present and the past, and I thought it flowed very well. I actually read the novel in less than 24 hours and I was definitely intrigued. Even though I had a pretty good idea of what happened "that night," I was still surprised when all of the truth was uncovered at the end of the novel.
One of my favorite parts of the novel was the relationship between Toni and her mother. (That sounds twisted since it was so bad!) During Toni's high school years, things definitely were strained because of Toni's acting out. However, once Toni was arrested for her sister's murder, things got even worse. While Toni's father did his best to support and believe his daughter, Toni's mother never even wanted to hear Toni's side of the story. When Toni was released from prison, things were no better -- sad, but still not surprising. However, once Toni was able to prove her innocence, her mother's reaction was definitely not what I expected. I can't really say much more about this because I don't want to spoil things, but suffice it to say, that I think their relationship is incredibly complex!
Because of the complicated relationships in the novel (among other things!), THAT NIGHT would make for an interesting discussion. There is a reading guide with nine interesting questions that will help facilitate your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, guilt, redemption, our prison system, bullying, perceptions, loneliness, and honestly. I actually think these questions are an interesting starting point, but I'm pretty sure your club will come up with much more to discuss. Warning: the discussion guide has a few spoilers!
Overall, I enjoyed THAT NIGHT and I think fans of mystery and suspense will enjoy it. I am looking forward to reading more of Ms. Stevens' novels.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.