“Four girls close their eyes. Only one wakes up…”

  • Book: The Night Of The Sleepover
  • Location: England
  • Author: Kerry Wilkinson

Review Author: Yvonne@FictionBooks

Location

Content

It’s 1999 and Leah, Vicky, Harriet and Jazz, now teenagers, have been friends since they were youngsters. Only that is all about to change! Following the death of her mother, Vicky now shares her home with her father Tom and older sister Esther and one Saturday in December is given permission to invite her three friends for a sleepover, as both Esther and Tom are out for the evening, although they will be home later, so the girls will be using sleeping bags to crash out on the lounge floor. As with all teenagers, Vicky is determined to push the boundaries a little, so finding alcohol is definitely going to spice up their pizza and film evening nicely. Tom checks that the girls are safely tucked in when he returns home, albeit that he himself is slightly the worse for wear following his evening out, so he is astounded when Leah rouses him later the following morning, after waking to find herself alone, with the other three girls having seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.

Leah is already by far the most emotionally unstable of the group, as she has led a traumatic childhood, being forced to witness the continual abuse and beatings her father dishes out to her mother, that’s when he is not being arrested and sent back to prison for yet another breach of the law. Leah herself has never been physically injured by her father Paul, however the verbal abuse she has endured and all that she has seen and heard, has surely taken her to the very edge of reason, a position which Vicky, Harriet and Jazz can’t comprehend, as they have each been blessed with a loving family environment and upbringing. It is therefore no surprise that, although Leah covets and is more than a little jealous of the love and parental praise showered on her three friends, their disappearance is a shock, especially when her father, recently released from jail yet again, comes under suspicion of causing them harm.

Roll forwards twenty five years and the disappearance of the girls remains an unsolved case and still at the forefront in the minds of so many of the townsfolk, who steadfastly refuse to accept that Leah is completely innocent of whatever fate has befallen them. Leah herself, now married, divorced and a single parent to her own teenage son Zac, continues to live and work in the area as a Community Support Worker, although her father Paul remains in and out of incarceration like a yo-yo and her mother has dramatically and finally succumbed to the deadly mix of abuse, alcohol and pills, which defined her shortened life and disturbed mind. For Leah, following the mysterious disappearance of her three friends, Harriet’s parents had surprisingly held out a lifeline to the distraught and vilified teenager, taking her in and treating her as their own, and to this day, still treat her as a surrogate daughter for the child they have lost, with Zac becoming the grandson they could never get to love and spoil.

To recognise this puzzling twenty-five-year-old mystery, amateur independent documentary maker and Jazz’s brother Owen, decides to re-open the case in his own way, hoping to jog someone’s memory, bringing new evidence to light. He begins to interview anyone and everyone who has connections or memories, no matter how tenuous the link, with the disappearance – and that’s when things begin to get even more strange and interesting for Leah, when she realises that someone out there, apart from she herself, knows far more than they are letting on and definitely more than they ever revealed to the police at the time of the investigation.

It looks as though more than one person has motive and secrets which they have steadfastly kept hidden for more than two decades, including someone who is no longer able to answer for themselves, but is the guilty party who they, or me as the reading audience, believe it is, or has their silent suffering all been in vain?

Read the book for yourself to discover the truth about what really happened on The Night Of The Sleepover…

Due to the passage of time between the disappearance of the teenagers and the present day, whilst maybe not dripping in the charged and claustrophobic atmosphere of some psychological thrillers, this intense, twisted and multi-layered storyline, is well structured, totally destructive and emotionally draining.

Narrated by Leah herself, it is written across multiple timelines, moving back and forth from the days and weeks before, during and after the night of the sleepover, in relatively short and well-signposted chapters, which kept the pace moving along nicely, whilst introducing backstory elements to add context, none of which made it any easier to spot the many red herrings planted along my journey to uncover the truth. However, you need to keep reading right until the very end for the final heart-wrenching, callous and cruel act of vindictiveness to be revealed, which literally took my breath away and left me speechless (which is no mean feat!).

Author Kerry Wilkinson has cleverly crafted this storyline as a vehicle to highlight the far-reaching ramifications to both physical and mental health, of being directly or indirectly involved in an abusive relationship. Once again begging the question of why it is that people keep letting destructive forces back into their lives regardless of the often ignored need that all children have, to be able to rely on at least one constant role model in their young and formative years. For Leah, the sense of loss for any relationship she might have had with her own mother and the overwhelming feelings of jealousy she has for her so-called friends, who have such stable home-lives and who are soon to be forbidden from mixing with ‘the likes of her’, is almost more than she can bear without fighting back.

The cast of characters are, on the whole, well defined and developed, although not particularly compelling or easy to relate to. Given the nature of the events they were drawn into all those years ago and which still haunt them in one degree or another to the present day, it is perhaps unsurprising that between them there is a plethora of complex human emotions still bubbling away just beneath the surface, with only the slightest of words or deeds needed to re-ignite that barely supressed volatility, an often destructive vulnerability and the inherent need to manipulate a situation.

As I came to the end of this very twisted and emotionally charged psychological thriller, I was more than happy with the way in which author Kerry Wilkinson had drawn everything to its conclusion… That was until I learned that there is a second book in the ‘Sleepover’ series, which whilst it is made perfectly clear that both work well as stand alone stories, leaves me feeling as though I have been left with something of a void which can only be filled by reading ‘After The Sleepover’ as soon as possible – just in case there are any links between the two plotlines. Silly I know, but that’s how my mind works, so I have now requested an advance NetGalley copy of book #2.

The only small niggle I might have had with this story, was that there was little sense of location, as there were no actual place names mentioned, either real or fictional. I fully accept that this was essentially a storyline which was all about plot and characters, so in many respects location was almost an unnecessary inclusion and not a vital component. However, for any avid ‘armchair travellers’ such as myself, a firm footing in a specific area, is always a desirable addition, as it can add depth to the overall reading experience.

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