Book Review: The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

deependTitle: The Deep End of the Ocean
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Viking
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
First line: Altogether, it was ten years, easily ten, from the hot August morning when Beth put the envelope full of pictures into the drawer until the cold fall afternoon when she took them out and laid them one by one on her desk.

When I submitted a request for a review copy of Jacquelyn Mitchard’s No Time to Wave Goodbye, I did so based on the fact that I adored her novel, The Breakdown Lane. I had no idea that No Time to Wave Goodbye was a sequel to her break-out novel The Deep End of the Ocean. When I found out, I knew I must read the first book first, and I’m so glad I did. I would have missed so much if I hadn’t known the first half of the Cappadora family’s story.

Spoiler alert: I can’t fully review this book without some plot spoilers. If you plan to read the book, then I would skip the rest of my review. Just know that I loved it and rated it 4 out of 5 stars.

Beth and Pat Cappadora are the parents of three children: Vincent, Ben, and baby Kerry. They are the kind of couple of whom people speak in terms of “made for each other” and “meant to be.” Pat helps run his father’s Italian restaurant and Beth loves her work as a photographer. They both adore their kids, although Beth struggles with the normal ambivalence with which any mother who has both children and a career she loves is inflicted.

The Cappadora’s happy family and bright future are altered forever one afternoon in a hotel lobby. Beth has taken her kids from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago for a high school reunion. As Beth is checking into the hotel, she takes her eyes off of her kids for five minutes. When she turns back to them, three-year-old Ben is gone. Vanished. No clues, not a trace. And Beth’s whole world crumbles.

Beth disappears, too, as she implodes into herself. She doesn’t know how to live in this new reality – a reality without Ben. She goes through the barest minimum of motions of being a mother to her remaining two children. Her marriage to Pat stumbles along, barely holding together, until Pat suffers a heart attack and Beth realizes she can’t survive losing him, too. They move to Chicago for Pat to open his dream restaurant, and life seems to be slowly becoming livable again.

Then one afternoon, a 12-year-old boy appears at Beth’s door, offering to mow the lawn. And Beth knows. She knows with the very depth of her being that this boy is Ben. And he is – and Ben comes home. Only Ben is now Sam. He was raised by a father who loves him, who believed him to be the child of his mentally ill wife’s first marriage. Maybe it would have been easier if Ben/Sam had been taken by a monster, an abuser. Instead, Sam feels like the Cappadora’s are the ones who have taken him – taken him from the only home he has ever known and from the father he adores. He comes “home” to a house full of people he doesn’t recognize, to an older brother who has turned into a dysfunctional teenager, and to the constant attention of a huge extended family full of Irish and Italian relatives. Sam becomes a shell of the happy, adjusted child he had been.

And Beth is left with the question: what is she willing to do for the love of her son?

This book was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It is gorgeously written and the characters are so well drawn that the pages simply drip with emotion and pain. Until I reached the halfway point, I had to read this book in small bits, putting it aside for something lighter when it simply became too difficult to keep turning the pages. And then I read about Beth finding Ben, and I couldn’t stop reading, wanting so badly for this family to get their happy ending.

One of the main reasons I had such a hard time reading this book is that for a large portion of it, I didn’t like the character of Beth. While I kept telling myself that I had no idea that I wouldn’t react in the same way she did, I kept wanting to reach into the book and shake her, telling her, “You have two more children, and you’re going to lose them! You have to snap out of it for their sakes!” By the end of the book, my heart was breaking for Beth, for Vincent, for Pat, for Sam. The fact that I felt so strongly about these characters is a testament to the author’s skill.

I am now both excited and hesitant to read No Time to Wave Goodbye – excited to see what happens to the Cappadora’s, but hesitant in case the sequel doesn’t live up to its predecessor.

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16 Responses to Book Review: The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I read this book years ago, and it REALLY bothered me. Not only did Beth’s attitude get under my skin, but just the thought of losing a child sends me right over the edge. It is a tribute to the author’s writing that we do feel we are going through the trauma as well. My stomach physically hurt while reading it. I had no idea there was a sequel. I will follow your lead…if you like it, I’ll read it!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls (audio) =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sandy – I agree – she definitely wrote a book that deals with every mother’s worst nightmare!

  2. lilly says:

    I read this one maybe six years ago but i still remember loving it. I was so into this book that I actually missed the end of my lunch hour one day because I just couldn’t put it down.
    I also remember shedding many tears over this story because I am a mother as well and I guess it just kind of gets to you.
    .-= lilly´s last blog ..2-in-1: Amazing Grace & I Do Again =-.

  3. Kathy says:

    I’ve read some other great reviews of this book, so now I’d like to read it or anything by Jacquelyn Mitchard.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Fall Festival Recipe Exchange – Country Club Squash =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathy – I don’t know if you do audio, but if you do the audiobook of The Breakdown Lane is fantastic – the reader is perfect.

  4. Kailana says:

    I have owned this book FOREVER! I seriously need to read it… Great review!
    .-= Kailana´s last blog ..Wonderland by Tommy Kovac =-.

  5. Great review, Carrie! I read this years ago, but it made quite an impression on me. It packs quite an emotional punch, not to mention how rich the characters are. One of the things that stood out for me was how difficult it was for Ben/Sam once he was returned home.
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..Review: The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Wendy – I know – what an impossible situation to be in – and at the age of 12! I’m very curious to see how Ben/Sam’s story turns out in the sequel.

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  7. S. Krishna
    Twitter: skrishna
    says:

    I skipped the majority of your review but I’m glad you loved this book. I have only read one book by Mitchard and couldn’t finish it, but I’m looking forward to reading some of her other books because I’ve heard great things.
    .-= S. Krishna´s last blog ..Pendragon’s Banner – Helen Hollick =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Swapna – I loved her book The Breakdown Lane and this one as well. Looking forward to the sequel, even though it’s getting mixed reviews.

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