The Stepchild by Nicole Trope is a very highly recommended novel of domestic psychological suspense.
Leslie has Shelby, her 12-year-old stepdaughter, babysitting Millie, her three-year-old daughter, while Leslie runs errands. As she's leaving the grocery store, Shelby calls her and tells her that Millie is gone, missing; she ran away while Shelby was upstairs using the bathroom. Leslie rushes home and calls her husband Randall. They are all frantically searching for Millie. The police are called. Bianca, Shelby's mother and Randall's ex shows up, and then her new husband Trevor. It's every parents nightmare - a young child is missing and can't be found.
The Stepchild is told through the point-of view of Leslie, Shelby, and Ruth.
Ruth suffers from agoraphobia, OCD, and a traumatic experience in the
past. Her connection to the search for Millie is not discovered
immediately but when it is slowly disclosed it will send your mind
scrambling to find the clues and follow them. However, you will also
know that Shelby is not telling the whole truth of what happened, which
also will have you looking for clues in what she says. Leslie is frantic
but she also didn't disclose every errand she was doing that day.
Everyone has some secret, but Trope is very careful to disclose
information slowly while providing plenty of misdirection.
Characters are depicted realistically and almost all of them will elicit sympathy. Some will evoke suspicion or doubt as new secrets are revealed and new clues exposed. You will not like all the characters, and your opinions will change several times as events unfold. Trope also handles the twists perfectly.
While I knew I would enjoy The Stepchild, I didn't realize how much I would enjoy it. The writing is clever and adroit. It is skillfully, tightly plotted and well-paced, which all serves to keep you reading just one more chapter as fast as possible.
Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger or open question or
foreshadowing which really works in this narrative to keep you guessing
and frantically reading. The secret Shelby is holding and the cause of
Ruth's pain is heartbreaking, but handled expertly and with great
compassion. There was one element that was a bit unbelievable, but this
is still an excellent novel. 4.5 rounded up