Christmas Eve. A car pile-up. Who will survive? And who caused the crash?
Nicola Moriarty’s You Need to Know is a complex family drama, where everyone has a secret. This multi-view story follows three author brothers, their partners, and their mother, as they navigate grief, family tension, and both everyday and extraordinary dramas. Topics include alcoholism, grief, child abuse, miscommunication, and relationship dynamics. Some spoilers ahead!
The things we avoid
We all avoid things, sometimes. It’s a pretty standard part of being human. But in You Need to Know, it seems like every character is avoiding something: whether it’s having a tough conversation, acknowledging their own discomfort, or reading some potentially life-changing information. Avoidance can have such a detrimental part on our wellbeing; in the short-term, it helps us cope through the moment and push down anxiety, but in the long term, it means that problems never get solved and we never communicate our true feelings.
The most pertinent example relates to Jill, who is pushing down her internal struggles as she navigates life after the sudden death of her husband. Spoiler warning again! At the climax of the novel, we learn that Jill has been avoiding reading an email from her son Tony’s ex-partner, Edie. When Jill finally reads the email, it confirms something she has long suspected, but buried: Tony is a paedophile. Jill’s avoidant nature is an interesting (though heart-breaking) character flaw; she’s obviously highly perceptive (picking up on other characters’ lies throughout the novel) but can’t face the reality crashing down around her. And this leads to some tough questions: What if she had read the email earlier? Or followed her gut when she noticed things weren’t right? Readers must sit with both anger and sympathy towards Jill, as we can understand why she buried her head in the sand, but cannot condone her actions.
Just taking the edge off
This book is unflinching with its depiction of parenthood – both the highs and the lows. This is most apparent for two mothers, whose paths do not cross in the story, but share some key similarities: they ultimately love their children, but turn to substances to cope.
First, we see a POV character, Mimi, develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Like many people who struggle with alcohol or drug use, Mimi’s habits start small then travel down a slippery slope. A few too many glasses of wine at lunch eventually transitions to gin disguised in lemonade, with resulting guilt, shame, self-doubt, and some questionable decision-making. Thankfully, Mimi has a strong support system around her, and reasonable self-awareness, ultimately motivating her to change her habits. It also seems that Mimi was not quite at the point of alcohol dependence, though you do not need to experience physical dependence to experience harmful effects.
Then, there is another parent experiencing some overlapping – but distinct – troubles. Side character Heather’s use of party drugs, and neglect of her daughter, troubles another POV character, Andrea. Though we never see Heather’s POV, we see both Heather’s defensiveness and dismissal of Andrea’s concerns, as well as times where Heather questions her own skills as a mother. Though her substance use is portrayed with less nuance than Mimi’s, we can give the author credit for still treating this character with some empathy, without excusing her behaviour.
As the book progresses, each POV character – Mimi, Jill, Andrea, and Darren – must come to terms with some harsh truths about themselves and their loved ones. Their seemingly untroubled lives are, for lack of a better analogy, turned upside down. As readers, we found their character arcs gripping. Books like You Need to Know highlight the danger that can lurk behind the mundane.
In the last quarter or so of the book, it seems like every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger or a new secret being revealed. Though we were still hooked in the narrative, in retrospect, we both felt like the story was creeping into melodramatic territory. We won’t comment on every single twist, but let’s just say that some of the storyline conclusions were satisfying, some were puzzling, and others were, frankly, unnecessary.
Final Thoughts and Star Rating
Priscilla: I love a good ensemble book, especially when each POV character is compelling. I found myself going ‘nooooo’ at some of the character’s choices but also understanding why they had made those choices. Nicola Moriarty did a wonderful job building tension throughout the story and creating a lurking sense of unease – I was doing the equivalent of peeking through my fingers as I read, particularly with Mimi’s escalating reliance on alcohol. The climax could be toned down a bit, and one particular ending is somewhat convenient, but there is a part of me that loves all the drama!
Elise: Though initially a slow burn, You Need to Know was a page turner (or whatever the audiobook equivalent is – the type of book where you stay a few extra minutes in the car even though you’re already a little late to work). Its characters are complex and intriguing. However, I wish there had been, say, 25% fewer twists at the end. If I’m rolling my eyes, it’s generally not a good sign.
Links and suggestions:
- Read more about avoidance here.