Book Review: The Birthday Girl by Melissa de la Cruz

The Birthday Girl by Melissa de la Cruz
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: Dutton

Told on a birthday, in dual timelines (one present day the other 24 years ago), this story focuses on Ellie, self-made entrepreneur, wife, mother and now 40 year old. She's having a few crises surfacing, from her daughter Sam reappearing back home from Stanford under mysterious circumstances, a business that needs a deal to go through to avert bankruptcy, two men from her long ago and best-forgotten past, dropping into her birthday party and worries that her husband is being unfaithful.

The first third takes the reader back to a time when Ellie was sixteen and living in poverty in Portland. She and her BFF have each other and some usual and unusual high school lives. There's a lot of moneyed angst and conspicuous consumption in the present day timeline. Both serve to set the scene and lay the foundation for Ellie's worries and anxieties. It felt a bit overwrought but it moves along quickly enough. What most helped was that we meet Ellie's friends who seem true and she has genuine affection for them.

The middle third gets into the main of the mystery and the tension builds more as Ellie's trying to handle it all and is worried about her past and present lives colliding. I liked the past timeline most here and found I was trying to figure out which girl Ellie was and what happened. Quite the page turner.

The final third of the book was my favourite, as the past comes to a head and so does all the build-up of Ellie's (and which girl she was) worry about what both men from her past appearing now means. It all resolved neatly and I found I was surprised. I think I'd been expecting a messier end or some sort of fallout but that wasn't the point here. There's gratitude, hope and contentment which is, all things considered, a nice place to end up.

This is my first read by de La Cruz & I'd read another. Recommended.

Many thanks to the publisher for an Advanced Reader's Copy.

Summary:  Ellie de Florent-Stinson is celebrating her fortieth birthday with a grand celebration in her fabulous house in Palm Springs.
At forty, it appears Ellie has everything she ever wanted: a handsome husband; an accomplished, college-age stepdaughter; a beautiful ten-year-old girl; two adorable and rambunctious six-year-old twin boys; lush, well-appointed homes in Los Angeles, Park City, and Palm Springs; a thriving career as a well-known fashion designer of casual women's wear; and a glamorous circle of friends.
Except everything is not quite as perfect as it looks on the outside—Ellie is keeping many secrets. This isn’t the first of her birthday parties that hasn't gone as planned. Something happened on the night of her sweet sixteenth. Something she’s tried hard to forget.
But hiding the skeletons of her past comes at a cost, and all of Ellie’s secrets come to light on the night of her fabulous birthday party in the desert—where everyone who matters in her life shows up, invited or not. Old and new, friends and frenemies, stepdaughters and business partners, ex-wives and ex-husbands congregate, and the glittering facade of her life crumbles in one eventful night.

Beautifully paced and full of surprises, The Birthday Girl is an enthralling tale of a life lived in shadow, and its unavoidable consequences.

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