We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart
11/2/21; 368 pages
Everything We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart is a highly recommended novel of suspense and a family drama.
Juniper (June) Baker is returning to Jericho, Iowa, the small town where she grew up. Currently she is a special collections and archives librarian for a college in Colorado. She has taken a leave of absence and is returning to help Cora, the librarian in Jericho, who has stage 4 breast cancer, but she has other more complicated reasons for returning. Fifteen years ago Cal and Beth Murphy, who lived on a neighboring farm, were murdered on the night of July 4th. Fourteen years ago she left her infant daughter, Willa, in the care of her mother and stepfather. Now Juniper is hoping to bring thirteen-year-old Willa home with her to Colorado. She also plans to finally look for the truth behind the murder of the Murphys. Her brother, Jonathan, was the prime suspect, but never charged. Juniper has a secret about that night that she has never shared and now may be the time to reveal what she knows.
The writing is excellent and the plot unfolds in alternating narratives set in the past and present. In the present day someone has taken a new interest in the Murphy case and is seemingly determined to get Jonathan charged for the murders. Juniper knows he is not guilty and wants to find out who is behind the push to charge him. The narrative set in the past occurs during the summer of the murders, right after Juniper graduated from high school, and follows events leading up to the crime. The difference between a teenager experiencing the events and an adult reexamining them is the crux of the plot. When present day events begin to point to someone taking action against Jonathan, Juniper feels like Willa's life may be in danger. While readers won't know Juniper's secret until the end of the book, the suspense is still palpable in Everything We Didn't Say due to the duel timelines.
Adult Juniper is a complex, relatable character. She is trying to figure out exactly what happened that summer night while knowing that Jonathan was not responsible for the murders. Teenage "June" is, well, a teenager who as a group are usually more self-centered and aren't normally known for always exhibiting good judgment or being observant about what is going on around them. As an adult it is easy to see what Juniper may have been missing as a teen so it is satisfying to follow her investigation into present day actions while knowing information about the past. When Jonathan is suddenly incapacitated and Juniper is unable to talk with him about the past, it makes current events even more fraught with peril at every turn.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.
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