Title: Who We Were
Author: B.M. Carroll
Published: April 28th 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Profile Books)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Mystery
Rating: 4.5 stars
A gripping novel about the power of childhood cruelty, and how it makes us the adults we become.
BUT ALL IS NOT FORGIVENKaty is not the shy schoolgirl she once was, and she’s looking forward to showing her classmates who she’s become.
Annabel was the queen bee. But her fall from grace changed her life forever.
Zach was cruel, but he thinks he’s changed.
Robbie was a target. And he never stood a chance.
The reunion will bring together friends and enemies, many for the first time in decades. But someone is still holding a grudge…
Writing for the second time under the name of B.M. Carroll, Ber Carroll presents her awaiting audience with yet another brilliant, astute and consuming thriller. Who We Were uses the stage of a high school reunion to unfurl a story of regret, revenge, deceit and mystery. I couldn’t take my eyes off this one and I begrudged having to turn my reading lamp off and stop reading before I was able to reach the thrilling climax of Who We Were.
Turning back the clock to twenty years earlier, a group of students at an Australian high school created a yearbook charting their memories and reflections of their poignant high school years. For one of these students, high school was an absolute nightmare. Now, two decades after they forged a new life for themselves as adults, this cohort is drawn together again as plans for a reunion are made. At the head of these arrangements is Katy. We learn that Katy is very keen to prove to everyone that she is a somebody. We also catch up with other members of this alumni, including the popular crowd and the outsiders. As reconnections are made and the reunion begins to take shape, a terrible set of messages received by the former students from an unknown source hits hard. These malicious accusations follow an awful event, that strikes at the very heart of reunion group. It is unclear who is responsible for these dangerous threats, with many in the group holding secrets. Who is desperate enough to seek a deadly form of revenge for mistakes made in the past?
What a juicy and colourful subject to base a book on. Who We Were tackles the cruel and unfair world of high school, with an additional focus on reunion plans. I have to say I was relieved when I was unable to attend both my ten year and twenty year high school reunion, due to distance constraints (I went to high school in the UK and I now live in Australia). As much as there are a handful of old friends I would love to catch up with, there are some awful memories of high school that continue to haunt me to this day. B.M. Carroll does a truly excellent job of ripping apart the high school experience, warts and all, along with providing the reader with a solid focus on life after the final school bell has rung.
I will admit that it took some time to settle into the groove of this novel, but I’m glad I persisted. There are seven different narrators that alternate as the book progresses. I loved how we were introduced to these narrators via their life at present and their past aspirations thanks to their respective yearbook entries. Although there are multiple voices to be heard, each is inhabited well by Carroll. I also appreciated that Carroll sign-posted each character interchange with a chapter heading, this assisted my reading process, which I found to be smooth and very addictive.
The time period, which tracks back to the past in 2000, is recreated very well. I felt a sense of nostalgia wash over me as I read through these areas of the book. Being very close in age to the characters, with my own graduation year just one year prior to the set in this book, I was able to completely relate. I was also able to see shades of myself, my friends and members of my high school cohort in Carroll’s figures. It was little confronting at times to be reminded of this difficult past, but the realistic tone Carroll takes carried me through the hard times. Carroll does a fine job of providing a good cross section of characters. However, it was Robbie and Katy that seemed to occupy a firm place in my thoughts.
The central mystery was simply fantastic and it urged me along. The idea that someone was behind a sinister set of punishing yearbook entries outing regrets, mistakes and failures made for an interesting read. It was quite crushing for the characters and witnessing their responses was devastating at times. Carroll sets up plenty of red herrings and I wasn’t able to pick the culprit’s identity. Carroll managed to stay one step ahead of this reader, what an astute plotter!
There are a number of themes that really got to me as a I read this novel. From bullying, loneliness, disconnection, acceptance, misunderstanding, pregnancy, parenting, medical conditions, disability, drug use, loss and mental illness, Who We Were covers plenty of contentious territory. B.M Carroll provides a subtle word of caution in her new novel and she draws our attention to feelings of regret, past mistakes and retrospect. These warnings are still occupying my thoughts, which is perhaps a sign of the power of this book.
Who We Were by B.M. Carroll was published on April 28th 2020 by Allen & Unwin (Profile Books). Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Who We Were, B.M. Carroll, visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Who We Were is book #58 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge