July Hooper knows eighteen things about her mother.
Like number thirteen: she loved dancing on the kitchen table. And number eight: she was covered in freckles.
And then there’s number two: she died after being hit by a car when July was small.
She keeps this list hidden in a drawer away from her father. Because they’re not allowed to talk about her mother. Ever.
But an anonymous note slipped into July’s bag on her tenth birthday is about to change everything she thinks she knows about her mum.
Determined to discover what really happened to her, July begins to investigate, cycling around the neighbourhood where her family used to live. There she meets someone who might finally have the answers.
July wants her family to stop lying to her, but will the truth be harder to face?
What July Knew is a unique and emotional read, following ten year old July. She lives with her father and stepmother and stepsister, and spends a lot of her time worrying about doing the wrong thing and angering her father Mick, who is a very angry man. Very quickly into this story, we start to feel July’s tension and anxiety, but what’s more heartbreaking is the fact that July just accepts this and thinks it’s normal.
July’s mother died in a car accident when she was 2 years old, but she starts to suspect this might not be all there is to the story, prompting her to begin to investigate during her summer holidays. I really enjoyed this element of mystery, even though a lot of it was wrapped up in the abuse and awful family life July has to endure. There are many, many flawed characters in her life – people trying to do right sometimes but not quite managing, and others who seem downright awful, but the characters felt (unfortunately) realistic in the way they don’t just fit into one type of box.
I loved that this story was set in the mid 90s, meaning July as a child experienced a very different childhood to those that 10 year olds would experience today. I would have been 5 in 1995 and I remember school life without computers, mobile phones, the internet etc. The setting and time period feel very nostalgic, despite the emotional subject matter!
I found it took me a while to really get into the story but once I did I really enjoyed it, so give it some time if you don’t feel gripped from the first chapter. The more you read, the more involved you feel in July’s story, and she is such a sweet, likeable character!
My rating: 4/5
Many thanks to Vintage for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest review.