Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
Some games are deadly serious and even if you don’t want to play you’re in, of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t change the rules of engagement. This sharp psychological thriller is wickedly enjoyable and I say that as someone who is always a little wary about ‘new’ psychological novels because there’s often not much substance, just a twist too far. Not so Never Have I Ever which has an engaging plot and a clever, disguised reveal that is satisfying. Jackson’s characters come to life on the page and an atmosphere of domestic competitiveness, keeping up with the Jones’s, petty squabbles, cliques, family and genuine friendship soon gives way to something more sinister.
The narrator of this creepy thriller is Amy. She’s living a comfortable life in suburban Florida, (purposely this could be anywhere in America). Amy is a wife, step mum to Maddy, and mother to baby Oliver. She is close to Charlotte, and has a circle of friends – they have their book group. Her world is about to be turned upside down by the arrival of mysterious newcomer Roux. Amy has a dark secret, it’s been buried for years, no one could possibly know about it, so she’s safe. If it did come out her whole existence would be in jeopardy, everything she’s built.
From the moment Roux arrives the equilibrium in Amy’s life disappears. She suddenly appears one night at the neighbourhood book club. There are twenty or so members from the local community but they’ve never had someone from the Airbnb house across the road from Amy’s before, the guests are usually transient. This night as the group settles down to The House of Mirth there’s a knock on the door, Amy answers, it’s Angelica, ‘call me Roux’. She’s just moved into the Airbnb place with her son Luca, she’s here on business and plans on staying a while; what better place to make friends than the book club? As she introduces herself to the group Roux is already playing a game and she quickly manages to get one up on Charlotte and Amy. By the end of the night Roux has a few of the women eating out of her hand, they are playing a version of Never Have I Ever. Everybody has to describe the worst thing they’ve done that day, the winner (‘worst thing’) gets everyone else to down a drink. Charlotte has gone home, Amy doesn’t want to play. The next round is the worst thing you did in the last week, then it’s the last month. Amy knows there’s something going on here, she can’t help feeling this is aimed at her. Roux says Amy should come over for a chat.
When Amy was fifteen she was a loner, then she started hanging out with Tig. One night it went badly wrong, Tig took the blame but that wasn’t right it was Amy’s fault. The thing is no one knew that, it’s gone and in the past. Roux isn’t bluffing though she really knows what happened. The question is what does she want…
Entertaining and involving with a nice little moral dilemma at its heart, actions have consequences and the past always haunts the present.
Bloomsbury, paperback, 14/5/20, ISBN: 9781526611604