The Hollow Inside, Brooke Lauren Davis (Bloomsbury, 2021):
This is the author’s debut novel. I decided to read it because the story involved a mother and daughter living on the fringe of society, stealing, and having serious mother-daughter issues. These are key elements in a story of mine that is coming out in July, so I thought it would be interesting to see how the author tackled similar plot elements.
The story involves 17-year-old Phoenix traveling around the country in a white van with her mother surviving by stealing stuff. The focus is on the mother’s troubled past and how she was badly treated in her home town as a teenager. She wants vindication and revenge, and she ropes her daughter into helping bring down her old nemesis, Ellis Bowman. Most of the story centers on Phoenix ingratiating herself into Ellis Bowman’s family and working from the inside with her mother to plot his downfall. In
the process, she develops some feelings for the family, particularly the daughter who is her age. Without giving away spoilers, momentous revelations occur and the truth isn’t quite what you expect, although the final denouement isn’t too twisty.
The story has minor romantic elements, but not much. Mostly this is a character study of Phoenix and her mother.
The writing is strong. I’m impressed. It’s written in both 1st and 3d person, and the author has achieved a very good voice for Phoenix. Overall, the story is worth a read. That said, I did have some issues.
First, Phoenix is accepted more or less as a full member of the family in a matter of minutes—instanta family. Having the family take in this total ragamuffin stranger and basically adopt her no questions asked felt contrived and hasty. Second, Phoenix isn’t very likeable in the beginning and she doesn’t evolve all that much during the story. By the end, I still didn’t like her very much. If I were writing this story, I probably would have done a little more to offset her flaws with more positive aspects of her character. Third, the mother is basically a repugnant psychopath from the first page until the last. The author worked to deepen our understanding of the mother through her back story, but it didn't work for me. Ugh! Third, the mechanics of the story were fairly good—pacing, dialogue, language, but one thing proved very distracting. While mostly written in the 1st person, the story was interlaced with 3d person narration of the mother’s back story. Sometimes switching from 1st to 3d works, sometimes it doesn’t. I found it a little too distracting here. I probably would have opted to tell the back story through Phoenix somehow and would have kept it all in 1st person. Finally, although this is not a romance story at all, it might have helped to develop the romantic element just a little more to make Phoenix more appealing.
In sum, if you like intense mother daughter issues and the drama of coming to grips with trauma, loss, and parental love or lack thereof, you should give this a read. I definitely will keep my eyes open for the author’s next story.