Tuesday 31 January 2023

What July Knew by Emily Koch #WhatJulyKnew @EmilyKoch @HarvillSecker #BookReview


Summer, 1995.

July Hooper knows eighteen things about her mother.

Like number thirteen: she loved dancing on the kitchen table. And number eight: she was covered in freckles.

And then there's number two: she died after being hit by a car when July was small.

She keeps this list hidden in a drawer away from her father. Because they're not allowed to talk about her mother. Ever.

But an anonymous note slipped into July's bag on her tenth birthday is about to change everything she thinks she knows about her mum.

Determined to discover what really happened to her, July begins to investigate, cycling around the neighbourhood where her family used to live. There she meets someone who might finally have the answers.

July wants her family to stop lying to her, but will the truth be harder to face?

What July Knew by Emily Koch is published on 9 February 2023 by Vintage / Harvill Secker. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

What July Knew is a beautifully written blend of mystery, coming-of-age and domestic drama. No reader can fail to fall for lead character July; a ten-year-old girl whose innocence and curiosity is slowly being knocked from her.

July lives with her father Mick, her stepmother Shell and her stepsister Sylvie. The story opens just as school ends for the the long, hot, sweltering summer of 1995. July's teacher has asked that they do a summer project about one of their relatives, and she's suggested that July write about her mother; Maggie Hooper. 

July only knows eighteen facts about her mother. She was just a very small child when Maggie died and her memories are very hazy. Her father forbids her to ask about her, her stepmother never offers any information and her grandmother gets far too upset to discuss her late daughter. However, July often feels Maggie's presence, she knows that she's watching over her. 

When July discovers a note, stuck to one of her school books, saying 'she didn't die in an accident', she cannot stop herself from trying to find out the truth. This determination brings so much pain to July, she knows that she risks receiving a 'lesson' from her father if she continues, but he's only doing it because he loves her .... doesn't he?

Emily Koch explores some very dark and emotionally challenging themes within her story. The depictions of violence within the home, both physical and emotional are incredibly well done, but often very hard to bear for the reader. July's constant need to gain affection and a kind word from her father is heartbreaking; the times that she stays at home, in the hope that he may notice her, be kind to her, take her for an ice cream brought a tear to my eye.

July does go and find out more about her mother, and what she eventually uncovers is shocking, to her and to the reader. The consequences of July's investigations lead to more anger, more violence and will change the lives of all of the main characters forever. 

A novel full of heart, and packed with mystery. It is perfectly structured and July is a delightful character, created with care and passion. This very talented author has created a story that is engrossing and filled with hope, yet is peppered with sadness and grief. The sweltering heat of the summer only adds to the tension and atmosphere, and the addition of letters interwoven through the narrative adds another depth to the story. 

Highly recommended by me. 

Emily Koch is an award-winning journalist and author of two novels, If I Die Before I Wake and
Keep Him Close. 

Her books have been shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award, won France's Prix du Bureau des Lecteurs Folio Policier, longlisted for the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award, and been selected as a Waterstones Thriller of the Month. 

Waterstones said her second novel 'cements Koch's place as one of the most exciting new crime writers of our day.' 

She lives in Bristol.

Twitter @EmilyKoch

Instagram @emilykochwriter

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