“The Second Mother is a gothic unraveling of a novel, as moody and atmospheric as the isolated island on which it’s set.”
“Another gripping and satisfying story of suspense … a beautifully written page-turner.”
—NY Journal of Books
People handle grief in different ways in The Second Mother (Sourcebooks), the suspenseful new novel from Jenny Milchman, bestselling author of Wicked River and As Night Falls. In Julie Mason’s case, she’s binge drinking over the loss of her infant daughter, and she’s helpless to prevent the erosion of her unstable marriage. Then, she spies an online ad seeking a teacher for a one-room schoolhouse on a remote island off the coast of Maine. Attracted to the beauty, isolation and adventure that the location offers, she seizes the opportunity to escape her misery, and applies for and accepts the new position. She and her Newfoundland-mix mutt, Depot, depart the Adirondack Mountains of Wedeskyull, New York, for the salty air and rugged cliffs of Mercy Island, Maine.
The tourist season is winding down when Julie arrives on postcard-perfect Mercy. It’s as if she’s entered a time warp where there are no vehicles, and there’s limited television, cell phone and Internet — just what she needed. However, she quickly learns that danger lies beneath the idyllic veneer.
The ferry is the only exit off the island, leaving the movements of every resident open to surveillance; widespread bullying plagues both children and adults; and the aristocratic Hempstead family dominates the community. They control the land, the most prosperous lobster traps, the police, the government and the residents. Julie realizes that to succeed at her new post, she must not cross its domineering matriarch — the grandmother of the clan.
The mystery at the heart of Mercy Island unfolds in gothic glory, complete with an isolated mansion, atmospheric stormy weather, life-threatening events and secrets of the past. Romance blows in on the sea breeze when a mysterious lobsterman, Callum McCarthy, is hired as a handyman for the school. As his friendship with Julie simmers, Callum swears that he bears no allegiance to the Hempstead family, but Julie questions whether he, and her new best friend, Ellie, are the grandmother’s minions. She senses, but cannot prove, that the matriarch is observing her every move.
Julie’s passion for teaching becomes her lifeline for overcoming her daily struggle at sobriety and her heart-wrenching pain; however, tensions soon arise when she observes disturbing behavior in one of her pupils, Peter, the matriarch’s only grandchild. Although she’s been forewarned, she dedicates herself to helping the floundering child. She believes that while she couldn’t save her own child, she can save Peter. But can she save herself?
When the grandmother discovers Julie’s weaknesses for scotch, her ex-husband, her dog, and her lost daughter, the reader wonders whether Julie will succumb to the manipulations to shove Julie over the cliff of sanity. Getting too close to uncovering a long-buried Hempstead family secret may cost Julie more than she bargained for.
In The Second Mother, Milchman examines grief, isolation, addiction, social inequality and legacy set against the background of an insular society desperate to prevent change and growth. Yet, this is truly a story about motherhood — the connection between mother and child, and the ferocity of a mother to protect her child at all costs. On every page, Milchman raises the stakes as Julie not only battles the strong-willed Hempstead matriarch, but her own demons. In a stunning climax, Julie’s life comes crashing down upon her like the turbulent waves on the rocky shore below her house.
While grappling with dark questions, The Second Mother will thrill and entertain readers who, like Julie, desire a summer adventure. And, in the end, readers will root for Julie’s happiness on Mercy Island, and will wish for a faithful companion like Depot.