RATING: VERY GOOD
As Issy returns to the town of her childhood, she learns what happened to her friends. John and Michael were already a pair of messed children in the past because of their father. Now we understand that the present hasn’t treated them right either, and their lives have been as erratic as Viola’s and Issy’s. Issy goes to the house where the twins lived, and everything is changed. Yet, she sees a woman with almost white hair, and she knows that this is Judy, the boys’ elder sister. However, when Issy approaches the woman, she tells her she has no twin brothers. However, when Issy is visiting the stud farm that sent her an invitation for her donation, she sees John there. The man in charge of the farm tells her that the farm hands are actually prison inmates that are doing their bit for the community in a reinsertion programme. Issy and John only exchange a few words, and she decides to go back and talk to Judy, who tells her that after she and Viola left, her brothers went even wilder, bunking off school all the time and getting into trouble. Then they moved into a caravan, and then when they were drunk and in one of their moods, John killed Michael, and that is why he is prison. Issy knows that it was an accident. The boys used to fight all the time, and Michael often used John as her punch bag, and she knows that what happened must have been an accident that went too far. Issy finds John again, who tries to give her a stone that he engraved for Viola that summer, but he finally decides that he will give it to her himself.
Issy returns to London, and even though she is reluctant to tell the truth to Viola, she can’t hide it from her. Instead of making her feel worse, the revelations pushed Viola to get better. Now she has a purpose, which is to help John. So she forces herself to eat, and in a few weeks she is discharged and goes to live with Issy, who frets about her. Viola tries to talk about the past and John, but Issy doesn’t want to. I guess this is the way Issy has used all her life to cope with what happened.
Interspersed with the present times, we get to learn what happened that changed these four children’s lives for ever. In the past Viola was close to John when he confessed to her she was the twin she liked. He had engraved a stone with her name, which she kept in her pocket all the time. John even asked her to be his girlfriend, and she nodded enthusiastically. Viola and John kept their special relationship from Michael and Issy as they didn’t want to be teased. Polly, the little girl whose father was dating Rose, was often in the house, which annoyed Issy and Viola. Polly was very inquisitive, and they found her too pedantic. I think Issy and Viola were also jealous of Polly when her mother hugged and treated the little girl kindly. I knew from the first moment that Polly appeared that something would happen to Polly.
There is a crucial moment in the story. Issy and Viola go out with the boys, and they decide to go for a swim where they splash and play. While the boys are still in the water, the girls leave, and since Issy reaches their clothes before, she decides to put on the shirt that is her sister’s favourite, and even though Viola protests, she lets it go. Then they decide to go to the tower where they sometimes hide, which is the boys’ favourite place. They climb, using the rope that the boys arranged there. While they are in the tower, they find a empty tin of pilchards, but they don’t give it a second thought, and they start playing some kind of hide-and-seek game. Then while Viola is hiding, he sees John approach her sister and kiss her in the mouth without Issy protesting. Viola is heartbroken, and we know that what has happened is that since Issy is wearing her sister’s shirt, John thought it was Viola. Miserable and heartbroken, Viola jumps from the tower, and in the fall she gets a nasty cut in her face.
When they get home, Rose is horrified and takes Viola to the hospital where she gets some stitches. When they leave the surgery, Frank and Polly are outside in the waiting room. Then Frank and Rose say that this is not the way they wanted to do it, but it is how things are. Then they announce they are getting married. Polly is ecstatic, hugging and kissing Rose, but the girls are not so happy. When they are home, they keep telling their mother they don’t want her to marry Frank. They know that things will change if Frank marries their mother. They will move to his house, they will have Polly around them constantly, and Frank will prevent them from seeing the boys who he already thinks are a bad influence on them.
Then comes the night that changed their lives completely. Issy and Viola have been talking about their unhappiness about their mother’s wedding, so the boys think that they need to spell a curse on Frank, and after they get the fetus of a deer from a farm, they arrange to meet with the girls to perform the ceremony. Yet, that night Rose has plans to go out with Frank, so Polly is to stay with the girls. Issy and Viola talk and decide that they will go to bed and when Polly is asleep, they will leave and meet the boys. They do that, but when they are about to set off on their bikes, Polly calls from the window, so Issy and Viola have no option but to take her with them. The boys are not happy with Polly’s presence, so they decide to leave her in the tower, and even though Polly wails and cries, they won’t hear her and leave her in the dark. The four twins go into the forest and perform the spell, and then when they return, Polly is not in the tower. So they have to return to the adults and tell them what has happened.
So that was the last time Polly was seen. She just disappeared. The police questioned them, but they could only tell them what happened. Issy admits to thinking about Polly every day, and deep down she hopes that Polly is alive and well, maybe after being raised by a family. Or maybe she is as lost as Viola and herself, and that is why when she sees a homeless girl, she tries to find Polly in her eyes and always gives them money. As for Viola, she still thinks about the tin of pilchards they found in the tower, meaning that it wasn’t only them that visited the tower. When Issy visited Judy, the latter mentioned that the two weird siblings that lived in her same street might have had the answers but nobody questioned them, and now they are dead.
Issy knows that they were just children, and what happened was an accident with dramatic consequences, but it is clear that Polly’s disappearance has haunted her and Viola in different ways. This is the event that made her mother take her own life when Frank left her. Viola claims that when she was in the hospital, she saw Polly’s ghost, which meant that she is dead and they should stop wondering what happened to her, but I imagine that this was something they won’t be able to do.
The end is quite open and left to the reader’s imagination. Issy goes with Ben to his parents’ wedding anniversary in the country. It is very windy and in the middle of the dinner a tree falls over the house, making them stay in the place. It is during this manic episode that Ben tells her that he has bought the cottage he had talked to her about, and he hopes she will move in with him. It is then that Issy decides to tell him about her past, and she does so. Issy is scared, but Ben is understanding and happy to know all the demons that have kept Issy so detached from him. So I imagine that in the end they manage to have a healthy relationship.
Alone in Issy’s apartment, Viola arranges her sister’s mail, and she discovers a letter addressed to her. She tears the letter open, and she finds a painting of Issy, herself, and John and Michael, and there is a drawing of John as well, and she also finds the stone with her name engraved in it. The letter she also finds is from John, telling her how much he has thought of her all these years and how it was Michael who stopped going after him. He wants to see her as he still loves her, so the next thing we know is Viola on a train, going to find John.
I have to say I loved the book even though sometimes it was confusing with the different points of view and points in time. We never know what happened to Polly, but one’s imagination can be terrible, and just thinking of that little girl being left in a dark, damp place, and then someone taking her and probably killing her is a terrible thought. I feel sorry for her dad, and I can understand how he couldn’t stay with Rose when her daughters are the reason why her little girl disappeared. I feel so sorry for all these characters. My heart goes out to all of them.