Never Let You Go
In a post-GONE GIRL world, thrillers are experiencing a huge leap in popularity, and readers who once shied away from this genre are now anxiously awaiting their next plot twist or red herring. How then does an author stand out? Just ask Chevy Stevens, whose newest psychological thriller, NEVER LET YOU GO, proves that she is on top of her game --- as is the genre itself.
Framed as a story of fear, abuse and freedom, NEVER LET YOU GO begins by introducing the Nash family --- Lindsey, Andrew and their daughter, Sophie --- while on a trip to Mexico. The family is the picture of perfection, with fit, toned Andrew watching over his beautiful wife and their perfect daughter. But as Stevens zooms in on their interactions, it becomes clear that there is a fourth, much darker member of the Nash family: domestic violence. Lindsey is constantly under Andrew’s scrutiny, and even so much as a mistimed smile can set him off. Stevens sets the scene masterfully, allowing readers to see inside Lindsey’s mind where every movement and utterance are rehearsed over and over again for fear of upsetting Andrew. Their daughter, meanwhile, is only seven and blissfully unaware of her father’s temperament, a fact that makes the seemingly serene setting even more chilling. Set off by what he perceives to be flirtation, Andrew plays a horrifying prank on Lindsey, exposing his true nature to the reader and confirming her fears.
From this point on, NEVER LET YOU GO skips forward 10 years and alternates between the perspectives of Lindsey and Sophie, now 17. The two escaped Andrew’s abuse shortly after their Mexican vacation and have since lived a cautious yet happy life, while Andrew has been imprisoned for a crime unrelated to his abuse. Lindsey now runs her own cleaning and caretaking business, while Sophie is content to draw, dye her hair wild colors, and spend time with her best friend, Delaney. But their lives are about to change, as Andrew not only has been released from prison, but has been spotted a little too close to their new home.
"Once again, Chevy Stevens has given us a chilling, eerie novel that will make even the most fearless reader feel like they are being watched."
Although Lindsey is fearful that Andrew will come looking for her and her daughter, she has grown a lot since she last saw him, and has even begun dating a new man, Greg, while taking self-defense lessons from a gentleman named Marcus. Sophie, on the other hand, has a secret: she has been writing to her father in prison and is finally ready to meet him in person. As a reader, it is difficult to watch Sophie fall into what seems to be an obvious trap, but Stevens writes Sophie with such skill that her yearning for a father is nearly palpable. She recognizes her mother’s fear and yet does not feel it herself --- and, as we all know, teenagers can struggle with empathy, particularly for such an unusual situation.
When Lindsey is cleaning a house one day, she notices that her purse has been moved in a way that reminds her of Andrew’s controlling nature. From that point on, other signs begin to appear that suggest someone is watching Lindsey and her daughter and waiting for the right time to make a move. Although Lindsey has the help of a supporting detective, she knows that Andrew can be highly manipulative and that it will take more than a restraining order to keep her family safe --- not to mention the fact that she, too, is hiding a dark secret about the night of her escape. With Sophie alternately forgiving her father and dodging calls from him while growing increasingly close to a boy from school, Lindsey must struggle to decide who to trust and who to fear.
In a novel about the dangers of abuse masquerading as charm, it can be easy to turn any minor character into a suspect, and Stevens carefully balances each of these characters --- particularly the men --- with a deft hand. Although they are all different, each bears a curious familiarity to Andrew: one a little too possessive, one a bit too watchful, another overly friendly. As a reader, you will think that this is simply a cut and dry story of abuse and escape, but you will be very, very wrong. I cannot say that some elements did not feel a bit unrealistic, but these do not take away from the narrative in any way --- in fact, they only serve to keep you happily distracted while the real villain creeps up.
If you are not familiar with Stevens’ writing, you should know that she is masterful in her pacing. Although this book is over 400 pages long, it moves very quickly, with each page bursting with tension and suspense. However, this is not your average action-packed thriller, as the real “meat” of the story comes from the strength of Stevens’ characters. I was instantly drawn to both Lindsey and Sophie and found myself rooting for them even when I did not agree with their choices. Sophie, in particular, was fascinating, as she was able to separate her feelings for her father from the history she had been given without recognizing the signs that something was amiss. Her naivety added an edge to the novel that might have been lost had this been a stereotypical story of abuse.
Once again, Chevy Stevens has given us a chilling, eerie novel that will make even the most fearless reader feel like they are being watched.
Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 17, 2017