Does the ending of a book alter your perception of the entire story? This is what I’m pondering, a few minutes after turning the last page of The Moonlight Child, by Karen McQuestion. The book had a compelling premise and an engaging presentation, but the climax and aftermath of the story was too casually told for what had gone before. And that was the crux of the problem, I think—the author ceased showing us and instead starting telling, and the whole story suddenly lost its mojo.
Sharon Lemke is recently retired and reveling in the ability to call all her time her own. She had thought that she would be at loose ends and perhaps immerse herself in volunteer work, but instead she is simply enjoying each day. One night she stays up late to watch a lunar eclipse, and from an upstairs bedroom window she observes something that puzzles her. In the house behind hers, a little girl, perhaps five years old, is standing on a step-stool doing dishes while the lady of the house apparently berates her. First of all, why is a child of that age performing household chores at midnight? and second of all, Sharon knows a little bit about these neighbors, the Flemings, enough to know that they have one son, Jacob, who is 17. So who is the little girl?
Soon after this incident, Sharon’s daughter, Amy, an attorney, calls her to ask a rather large favor: She is a mentor for a teenager, Niki, a former foster child who at 18 has just aged out of the system. Niki hasn’t been able to find an appropriate place to live, and Amy wonders if Sharon would consider letting Niki stay with her for a while. Sharon somewhat reluctantly agrees, but after Niki arrives the two form a bond much like grandparent and grandchild, and both are pleased to go on with the situation.
Niki’s bedroom overlooks the Fleming family’s back yard, and after she, too, notices some odd occurrences surrounding the anonymous little girl who apparently lives with them, she and Sharon decide to call social services. But the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly; the two become impatient and decide to do a little detective work on their own, to find out who this child is, and what relation she bears to the family. This sets some dramatic events in motion.
I really enjoyed about 85 percent of this book. The characters were interesting and memorable, their interactions dynamic, and the story moved along at an exciting pace, with numerous small surprises to keep things interesting. The psychological aspect of the antagonist—the sociopath, Suzette Fleming, whose selfish needs drive the story and motivate the actions of every member of the Fleming household—was fascinating to observe, and the differences between her perception of the world versus what other people were actually thinking were quite entertaining.
But…then a few things happened that turned me against it. First of all, although Sharon Lemke is initially set up as an important protagonist, she all of a sudden takes a back seat during the crucial action of the book, which was disappointing. I felt like the author decided to relegate her permanently to “grandma” status, rather than allowing her to keep her agency.
Second, the crucial scenes in the resolution of the child Mia’s situation were in some ways excitingly written, but we suddenly lost touch with the thoughts and emotions of Suzette, who was the driving force of all the internal action throughout, and the rest of the book becomes simply a series of narrated events without the context of her delusion. The whole ending resolved itself with comparative ease, but in the process it became truncated, leaving the reader (or, at least, this reader) feeling dissatisfied even though everything had been wrapped up.
So, my question: Does the ending ruin the rest? Not entirely, but sufficiently to change my opinion of this book from an enthusiastic five to a somewhat tepid three. All I could think, for the last 15 percent, was, Damn! and it was going so well!