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SPOILERS AHEAD Ok, so I really enjoyed the book, and it was a very quick read. However, I felt like the plots were a little stereotypical & the characters were very common and over-used archetypes. Meaning...the teenager who commits suicide, the older teacher who sleeps with his student, grieving mom who blames everyone for her loss...rape, suicide, psycics, abusive husbands....etc. I just think while it was fun and thrilling...it wasn't very original. It was just kind of like a creative and wild Law and Order Episode. With that said though, I did enjoy the different points of view and thought the characters were well developed and believable.
I completely agree with your point about the missing father being such a huge part of the first half of the book. I kind of think that is why he divided it up into sections with date ranges. I read it more as a journey through Rachel's life with interesting plot twists...which helped me get over the great shift in plot topics. If you think about it, Brian really doesn't take huge precedence in the novel until later, although you could argue his storyline is greatest in the book. It was an interesting read, and I think her mother's personality and her search for her dad are what makes her the way she is. So, I think that we had to know those stories before we could get into the relationship between her and Brian.