Dear Daughter book review: Mothers, daughters and their lies

Dear Daughter Book review

What is this about?: 10 years after being imprisoned for the murder of her mother, Jane Jenkins is released on a technicality. Recalling a conversation she overheard the night her mother was murdered, between her and someone else,  Jane returns to her home town to investigate exactly who killed her mother.

What else is this about?: I think the plot has enough half-truths, lies and manipulations that it doesn’t really need to be much about anything else. If anything, mothers and daughters, and reality versus appearances. Reinventing yourself is all good and well, but never forget the past.


As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I’m not.

LA IT girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?

Stars: 4/5

Newly released from prison, and with every news outlet out to find her, Jane heads to her mother’s mysterious home town to try and make sense of the conversation she overheard between her mother and someone else the day her mother was murdered. She’d been hiding in her mother’s closet when she overheard the conversation. Her pursuit of that conversation is an attempt to prove to herself, more than anything, that she didn’t kill her mother because that night is so hazy.

Jane reinvents herself into a mousy academic called Rebecca and heads to Ardelle and Adeline, twin small-towns that hold the answers she needs.

Jane Jenkins

You’re not meant to like Jane Jenkins – she’s blunt, sarcastic and ever-ready with a putdown if someone gets on her nerves. But here’s the thing Elizabeth Little does well – underneath that sharp tongue, there’s something relatable to Jane for there are well-chosen moments where her weariness shines through, and her fear that she did in fact kill her mother. Mind you, those moments are still delivered with sarcasm and snide remarks. Given she was high at the time her mother was murdered, she was never quite sure if she was as innocent as she maintained.

The book flits between her past and her relationship with her mother, and the present as she investigates. The past reveals a brat, who is always at odds with her mother and the life she had chosen for them, but her present reveals someone who took pleasure in the things her mother gave her like waltzing lessons for instance. Jane is a complicated character, with Little’s subtle touch revealing how who she is in small moments that when they all come together, show  a young woman who very much loved-hated her mother, but would never have killed her. Yelled that she wanted her dead, and maybe even fantasised about it, but she’d never do it.

Little maintains this through the book, and if you’ve ever met someone who is always ‘on’, always ready with a quick comeback you’ll know exactly what I mean. I thought I might get tired of that in the beginning, but as I mentioned, Little lets just enough of Jane’s complexity through to temper that part of her.

Ardelle and Adeline

Ardelle (because Adeline has long been abandoned), like the polyster blend Jane is forced to endure as Rebecca, is the stuff of her nightmares. Everyone knows everyone else, and everyone is ever so helpful in the all the wrong ways, which drives Jane nuts – also being normal, nice and boring drives Jane nuts, but that’s the humour in this.

As the book progresses, Jane gets to know the major families in the town, the ones that own everything and are on the boards of every organisation in them. They are the ones that have the most secrets she finds, but the biggest secret of all is what she finds out about her mother.

The more Little revealed about Marion, her mother, the more I got the feeling Jane and her mother were more alike than the other realised, and had they stopped fighting and put their heads together, they might have ruled the world, or the large companies of the husbands Marion seemed to collect.

However, there are also friends and family that Jane discovers in Ardelle, with the latter being more similar to her than she might care to admit. Little makes it clear that Jane is a selfish, entitled being but that doesn’t mean she isn’t self-aware, and capable of change, which Little shows to great effect in her investigations and her interactions with different characters.

Another testament to Little’s writing is her use of our celeb-obsession as she intersperses story chapters with breaking news bulletins from CNN to TMZ, interviews with people just after Marion was murdered that seemed to implicate Jane, and even blog posts from bloggers obsessed with her guilt. But, every bit matters, as they build a picture of the past without slowing the current narrative down.

Dear Daughter is an entertaining mystery revolving around Jane and her mother, who prove to be so much more complicated than the other thought they were.


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