I feel bad leaving such a harsh review on a book that presently only has one other review, because that sways the average rating a lot and other people might not hate this book as much as I did and I'm kind of fucking things up for the author here. And yet, try as I might I cannot find any reason to give this book a second star. This is probably my most hated book since I read Dune.
The main reason I hated this book is the completely garbage morality tale the author felt obliged to impose on every single female character. Literally every woman in the entire book, with maybe one exception, eventually realises that the only true path to happiness is to quit her job, have a bazillion babies, and devote every second of her waking life to doing domestic chores for her husband. The only exception is a minor character who retires after a long career with Child Protection Services, and I'm mostly just assuming that she was happy with her life.
This novel leans really hard on the madonna/whore dichotomy. For all those female characters who haven't yet realised that the meaning of life is being a domestic slave for their husband, they fill their time with all kinds of sexual improprieties. I don't actually believe there's anything wrong with eschewing relationships and just having loads of casual encounters if everyone's on board with that and doing it safely… but this author sure seems to. This author also believes that “sleeping your way to the top” is an actual thing, and has two separate female characters do this (and what a coincidence, these are also the only two female characters with jobs that pay well). What's more, the male characters in this novel get even lousier characterisation: all of them are either embodiments of evil (like Emma's pedo-murderer uncle), or paragons of perfection (the Christian preacher dudes and that boyfriend Emma cheated on because ~she's a whore lol~).
There's a lot of other stuff that annoyed me in this book, too. Emma becomes obsessed with reading her uncle's boxes and boxes of diaries, because she wants to find the “answer” as to why he killed her mother and molested her. She finds the answer on day 1 (it's not like it's really deep or complex), but keeps reading for years and years on end anyway. She has a ton of “symbolic” dreams which are not really symbolic so much as they are extremely bleeding obvious. The ending to this book is extremely bleeding obvious (and I am that person who never figures out who the murderer was in a whodunnit until the denouement). The maid characters aren't very good – one of them randomly resents and snaps at Emma for reasons that are never explained, while the other is given terrible dialogue that doesn't match her linguistic background at all (she doesn't use any indefinite articles, even though Spanish – her native language – has these and uses them almost exactly like English does).
What positive things can I say about this book? Well… the depiction of the setting, Maine, was quite thorough and good. The pace of the novel was quite brisk overall, as well (although there were some pacing issues – events told when they should've been shown, while everything to do with the uncle's diaries just dragged and dragged). There was some realism in having the main character's friends drift in and out of her life, rather than having an ironclad group that remains equally as close forever.
Overall though, I could not recommend this book. Perhaps if the author had been a bit more upfront about the overtly Christian conservative messaging, I could've avoided it in the first place. It is categorised that way on Amazon, despite none of the blurbs or promotional tweets or the author's own website mentioning this (which is why I didn't notice until it was already too late). Unless you're the kind of Christian who thinks all women should be housewives, I recommend avoiding this book.