Book Review: We Never Told: A Novel by Diana Altman


We Never Told: A Novel by Diana Altman
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: She Writes Press (June 2019)

The story opens with a discussion between sisters Sonya and Joan after their mother's death. They're going through her papers and find information about the baby she gave away when they were teenagers. This is the crux of the title, the secret they never told. It isn't until the very end of the book that this situation comes back full circle and is hardly the main thrust of the story as related. Usually, I'd be annoyed that such a big thing was strung out so very long but in the reading of this book, I found I didn't mind. It was so engaging a read that I often had to remind myself about the big revelation at the beginning.



Going back and being told through Sonya's eyes about the life she and her sister lived with and usually without their mother, Violet, was a very engaging story. I enjoyed the contrast between the Adlers and the Greenhouses and what both sides of the family brought to Sonya and Joan's sensibilities as they grew into adulthood. The writing is bright and engaging and it winds up that it's all the little things that add up to make it a well done whole. Sonya as the narrator was funny, infuriating, insightful, selfish and sympathetic. She was all around well done. I can't give spoilers but I did find that the parts that showed Sonya & Joan's relationship with their father and what it was like to have a father so much your mother's senior (even though my parents marriage didn't break up in divorce) and having him die when you're just into your twenties, was personally relevant to me and felt very true.

I'd read another by Diana Altman. This reminded me of The Swans of Fifth Avenue because while it's not historical fiction, it feels like it is to me as it begins and spans a part of the last century that is in my mother's memory and experience, not my own. I'm going with this being contemporary fiction as it ends in the present day (Siri is asked to do something on the last page), however. Oh, the genre conundrums!

Many thanks to the publisher for the advanced reader copy.

Summary: It’s the 1950s and the Hollywood lifestyle is at its height. Sonya’s mother is the epitome of her time. Violet is glamorous and beautiful. She puts on a show of living a life of luxury but her daughters know that underneath the glitz, Violet is unhappy.
When Sonya is twelve, her grandfather, a Chicago magnate, bankrolls Violet’s divorce and buys her an expensive apartment in Scarsdale, New York. Everyone expects the beautiful Violet to remarry, but none of her suitors stick. Sonya is fourteen when Violet—claiming to have a tumor in her stomach that she must get treatment for in Kentucky, and making her daughters promise not to share this information with anyone—leaves Sonya and her sixteen-year-old sister, Joan, alone with a maid for months. The maid has a heart attack midway through Violet’s absence, leaving the girls alone and scared for weeks. They cannot tell their father, he has visitation rights, because they have promised Violet to tell no one. Their mother left no forwarding address. What has become of her?
Sonya is haunted by these events, and the secrets surrounding them. When, years later, she finds out the real story behind Violet’s four-month absence, she realizes that some secrets are best kept secret.

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