Beware would-be novelists. This debut writer sets very high standards for a first book. Assured is the word; fluid is the pace, and light is the touch. Which is just as well, as the subject matter is tough and often dark.

The story is told, as many seem to be these days, in an alternating timeframe between the dark past and the present time that is trying to deal with and/or explain these past events. There is a sense of building tension as the past chapters progress from Sixteen Years Earlier to fifteen and on to the fateful eleven. The beauty and subtle complexity of this book is chiefly effected through Richell’s use of point of view. The story is told, and retold, through the eyes of the Tide women, the mother and the two sisters, who have all harboured secrets from their family’s most tragic day, with differing emotional fallout.

Richell’s prose is smooth and confidant, her dialogue authentic. More impressive still, is the fact she does not fall into the obvious traps that new authors are sometimes caught in (the acknowledgements indicate that may in part be due to Hachette’s editors taking very good care of her). Descriptions of setting are seamlessly woven into the story and where expository back-story is required, it never seems like a patch or a distracting aside. Richell nicely employs symbolism and parallels within the different character arcs, enriching the reading experience, which make it easier to forgive the few small lapses into cliché and twee dialogue in the final, happier chapters.

Who would have thought so much emotion could be rung out of the reader by the subtle repetition of the word ‘little’? Hard going emotionally, but worth it.