Jenny Blackhurst – How I Lost You

jennyblackhurst-howilostyouThey told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied?

I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don’t you?

My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life.

This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he’s dead?

If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

When I was handed the advanced review copy for How I Lost You my first reaction was “This book is going to make me cry, isn’t it?” In fact, it didn’t. Instead it kept me reading way past my bedtime and completely glued to its pages. How I Lost You is a gripping story, with characters it’s hard not to love. 

The core of the story is Susan. She finds herself in a horrific situation, being accused of killing her infant son and not even remembering that she did so. And while initially convinced that she couldn’t have done it, during her trial and her consequent incarceration, she slowly comes to believe that she did do it while in a psychotic state caused by an untreated post-natal depression. This slow, but inexorable erosion of not just her belief in her own innocence, but also her self-worth was heart-breaking. Through witnessing Susan trying to put her life back together after being released from jail, we also see how going to jail has affected her and her relationships with her loved ones. She’s not just lost her son, she’s lost everyone, her husband, her father, her friends and not all of them through their choice. She feels as if she’s a taint on their lives, so she excises herself from them. When her dad comes to visit she refuses to see him and she mostly wants him to forget. This aspect of the narrative was fascinating to me, especially as I have lots of feelings about what we tell expectant parents to expect, but I’ll spare you the ‘it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows’-rant!

Of course, Susan doesn’t go it completely alone in this book. She’s got a rock in the form of her former cell mate Cassie, and of course there is Nick, the journalist who joins Susan in figuring out what exactly happened four years ago and whether her son is truly still alive. I loved Cassie, she is a staunch and loyal friend and their friendship is the kind that is almost unconditional—there may be harsh words said, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about each other. Cassie also takes responsibility for her crime unflinchingly, without being flippant about it, though she’ll mock everything and everyone else. Nick was a brilliant character, I loved how we follow Susan’s narrative of who and what he is without question. While I really liked him and the chemistry between him and Susan, I found myself wondering about his motivations.

The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks, which confused me at first, but they started making sense once I figured out who Billy Shakespeare was and they made for an interesting second mystery strand. While I loved the resolution to the mystery, which ultimately links to Susan’s quest, it sometimes felt a little too much Hollywood flick; if I thought about it too deeply, it might fall apart as implausible. Then again, life is often stranger than fiction and I might be the only one who felt this way upon reading the book.

Despite my qualms about the big conspiracy at the heart of the mystery, I absolutely adored the way the book wrapped up, with both a happy ending and a realistic take at how it would look. Nothing is magically resolved; the characters are left with hope for the future, but knowing they’ll have to do a ton of work to make it truly happy. Jenny Blackhurst’s debut psychological thriller How I Lost You is a strong narrative with compelling characters and managed to surprise and delight me.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.