Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back…
One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.
Emma in the Night is carefully crafted. Told from Cass in first person as well as Dr. Winter in third person, you quickly go back and forth between trusting cass and questioning her. For her entire life, she was manipulated by her mother, a true narcissist and even her sister, the favored yet also manipulative child, making her always feel inferior. The mother favored Emma because she was the stronger one, more likely to leave her. She predicted from the beginning that she should never live with her mom, Emma, her stepdad and stepbrother because something bad would happen. And a lot of bad things happened.
Cass’s Story is carefully articulated and she paints a story that she has rehearsed for years, making you wonder what is true and what is not. She reveals that she and Emma left because Emma was pregnant, but the story quickly turns to captivity. Abby (Dr. Winter) related to Cass due to the fact that her own mother was a narcissist, so she’s deeply devoted to the case. Cass pointedly talks to Abby when she speaks in code, making sure she understands what she can’t say- they left their family because this couple seemed like they would give them love and affection and a happy life they couldn’t have with their own family. Cass breaks into many stories about her childhood and the points of them are subtle- you may not realize each story’s significance right away, but they all tie together into the big picture of her family and the people she knew she shouldn’t live with in the first place.
Cass has constructed an entire plan and story to break her family down in the perfect way so that everyone can know the entire truth- including herself. She knows exactly what will set her mother over the edge, and she is determined to be deemed credible so her mother can go crazy under her own manipulation. She shows the sides of herself that are like her mother, manipulative, but she also redeems herself in her sole purpose loving Emma.
The book actually has a beautiful ending despite cass’s emotional scars. You will think from the beginning, and over and over again as the story unfolds, that you can predict the exact story and outcome. You think you know what happened to Cass and Emma. However, there is a twist to each story and they lead to an entirely different ending than the one that may seem to be foreshadowed. Cass grew up in a home with a narcissist mother- she knows that nothing is as it seems, and she allows the reader to discover that on their own as well. Cass is not who she seems to be, and either is her mother, her stepbrother or stepfather, or even Emma. We believe what we want to believe, and Cass makes you want to believe her.
I will say that Abby Winter is a good character, but she not is developed as much as Cass is. We know her mother was a narcissist as well and that she has a sister who counts and orders like Cass does as a coping mechanism. However, we don’t dive into Abby’s alcohol issues, her issues with Leo, or see much of her personal life.
The title doesn’t come from Emma disappearing, but rather Cass’s favorite memories of when Emma would come to her in the night, protecting her and telling her that they would one day escape their mother and their family and live a new life. That’s what Cass has held on to, and she talks about those nights over and over.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys one that involves mental disorders, crime solving, and suspense. You are brought into the mind of a girl who spent upwards of three years crafting a plan to expose everything about her family without actually doing it herself.