“To Dare” by Jemma Wayne

Genre: General Fiction/Literary Fiction To Dare
Publisher: Legend Press
Pub. Date: July 1, 2020

This novel explores many themes through a multi-layered style, maybe one too many. You will read about addictions, domestic violence, rape, child abuse, dysfunctional friendships, jealousy, class biases, miscarriage, and claustrophobia. Wayne does a good job in all her themes.  However, I am not sure that they all need to be addressed in one novel. Taking on too much can create a cramped read. Wayne’s astute observations make for a good literary fiction tale. Think the author Ann Patchett. Yet in this novel, the characters’ troubles, written in detailed and lengthy prose, gave off a melodramatic women’s fiction feel, especially the ending. No matter the genre, this story is dark. This reviewer has no problem reading disturbing fiction though others may.

Three women narrate the story. Two are childhood friends and the other is a neighbor to one of them. Their lives are interwoven by chance and proximity.  Simone grew up with money but in adulthood, she lives in poverty. Rebellion against her parents led her to a teenage marriage with a boy who lived in the slums. After his death, drug abuse and loneliness bring her into a disastrous second marriage. This time to a man who is mentally and physically abusive to her and her children. Here the author shines in exploring the reasons for her character’s spiraling downfall where she confuses abuse with love. Through Simone, Wayne does an excellent job of showing the reader the definition of Battered Women’s Syndrome.

We also meet Veronica who is a wealthy teacher.  She and her husband just moved into their dream house. However, she is mentally depressed. The trauma of her miscarriage and the stress of not being able to conceive again are destroying her marriage. Again, Wayne shines in her descriptions of Veronica’s emotions regarding her infertility.  They are good enough to make you wonder if she interviewed couples going through this issue. Then there is Sarah who in the present is a middle-class lawyer married with two children. In Sarah and Veronica’s childhood years, they were best friends. When she re-enters Veronica’s life the adult friendship goes haywire. I compliment the author by nailing their preteen jealousies complete with dangerous dares and power games, which hurt one of them so terribly it left her with claustrophobia.  In the present, both of them revert to their childhood personas.  Here, I thought things became unbelievable. It is hard to swallow that two grown women would have a “Mean Girls” sort of friendship.  It reads like a corny women’s fiction novel.

All three women are fighting their own demons, meaning the reader should be cheering them on. However, I did not. Or I did until the plot began to feel silly to me. When the three female stories are weaved together, rather than enhancing the novel they lose some of their intended punch. I do give the author credit for writing about three often-unlikable female characters. At least, I think that she did this on purpose.  (Spoiler: The tale has an open ending, but hints that the women will do well in their futures), which is usually the case in women’s fiction. Women’s fiction can be done well as it taps into the hopes, fears, and dreams of women today. However, in this novel with its many themes it comes off as excessive, exhausting, and sometimes silly.  This is a shame Wayne is clearly a talented author and I would read her again. I found “To Dare” to be a decent read that with some editing could have been a very good book.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review

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