Author: Angela Pisel
Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Contemporary (Legal)
Angela Pisel's poignant debut explores the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter, and their quest to discover the truth whether or not love can prevail - even from behind bars. Grace Bradshaw knows the exact minute she will die. On death row for murdering her infant son, her last breath will be taken on February 15 at 12:01 a.m. Eleven years, five months, and twenty-seven days separate her from the last time she heard her precious daughter's voice and the final moment she'd heard anyone call her Mom. Out of appeals, she can focus on only one thing - reconnecting with her daughter and making sure she knows the truth. Secrets lurk behind Sophie Logan's big house and even bigger bank account. Every day when she kisses her husband good-bye, she worries her fabricated life is about to come crumbling down. No one knows the unforgivable things her mother did to tear her family apart - not her husband, who is a prominent plastic surgeon, or her "synthetic" friends who live in her upscale neighborhood. Grace's looming execution date forces Sophie to revisit the traumatic events that haunted her childhood. When she returns to her hometown, she discovers new evidence about her baby brother William's death seventeen years ago - proof that might set her mother free but shatter her marriage forever. Sophie must quickly decide if her mother is the monster the prosecutor made her out to be or the loving mother she remembers - the one who painted her toenails glittery pink and plastered Post-it notes with inspiring quotes ("100 percent failure rate if you don't try") all over Sophie's bathroom mirror - before their time runs out.
Seriously, I've now taken some time to collect myself. I just ugly cried for about 20 minutes immediately after finishing this book. I haven't cried this hard since I read Me Before You. Mostly, because I don't let myself read these types of books unless I go in having a semi-sunny disposition. Otherwise, it would just drag me into the depths of despair, drawing me right under the covers contemplating all the things that are wrong with this world.
But there is an upside.
When you read the lengthy synopsis, I think you get a good feel as to what the story is going to be about and who the main players are. What it doesn't state is that this is a love story. It doesn't say that even though this life is hard, there are glimmering slivers of hope. It doesn't say how much you will fall in love with Grace Bradshaw and Sophie Logan. The title of this novel quietly hints at, what I feel, is the major theme of the story: that there is a duality to life. And in this narrative, it is "inside" versus "outside." The yin and the yang.
(1) Grace Bradshaw lives inside prison walls and has been since she was sentenced to death row. Grace Bradshaw mostly lives inside her head. She's been able to develop many coping mechanisms to deal with the harsh realities of prison life and specifically, prison life on death row. There are moments where Grace practices meditation devices (like recalling family memories) when she's being cavity searched and she writes in a journal while she awaits execution, which shows us many of the thoughts that take up residence in her head.
(2) Her daughter, Sophie Logan (obviously, her married name), has created her own mental prison. Not having confessed to the catastrophic events of the past, not even to her husband, she lives in agony. It's almost as if she is truly living a dual life because no one knows the real her: a woman who suffers, who is withdrawn, and a little bit dead inside. Long ago, for reasons I don't want to spoil, she stopped visiting her mother but thoughts of her and her family necessarily creep up all the time.
(1) In one scene, Grace Bradshaw looks at her reflection in the mirror and notices how much prison has aged her. She's also had to live with people seeing her as something that she isn't - because from the start she contends that she is innocent. And there's no ignoring that even her own daughter doesn't believe she's innocent. Sophie can't seem to reconcile the sweet mother of the past with the killer she hasn't visited in years.
(2) Sophie Logan and her doctor husband look like they have the perfect life from the outside. They live in the huge house, in a nice neighborhood, and attend balls and galas that are strictly reserved for the elite community. On the outside, she looks like she's got it together, putting together fundraisers and acting as a mother figure to a sick boy, Max, at the hospital. But she is broken beyond belief.
I can't believe this is Angela Pisel's debut novel. The writing is absolutely beautiful. She's able to convey so many emotions and actions in such a succinct manner. Her descriptions of prison life are so nuanced, it's evident she spent a lot of time on research. And by doing so, she has done this story justice. For instance, one of the things I found fascinating was the $15.00 allowance allotted to prisoners for their last meal.
This book is heartbreaking. But it's so earnest and brutal that it makes for an important read. The story of these two women was told in a way I've never read before, and for that, I'd like to thank Angela Pisel with all my love from the inside. This novel covers important topics both when it comes to matters of the heart and shedding light on our broken justice system.
I highly recommend this one!