Book Review: Two Little Girls by Laura Jarratt
By Jenny MaloneyMay 13, 2022
There is no way to sugar coat it: Two Little Girls, YA superstar Laura Jarratt’s adult debut, begins with an absolutely heartbreaking sequence. Lizzie, a barrister specializing in custodial family disputes, is driving her two daughters home after a long-needed vacation. Everything seems normal, they stop for treats at a small shop, and the girls fall asleep in the backseat, settling in for the long drive.
Then the weather turns rough. Through the slashing rain, a pair of headlights appear, heading straight toward their car. In the blink of an eye, Lizzie is off the road, tearing through the underbrush, her brakes not responding to her repeated attempts to stop. At the bottom of the embankment is a lake. Lizzie and her daughters crash into the water. With the water spilling in around them, Lizzie has enough time to save one—only one—of her daughters. And she makes a decision.
The consequences of that decision become the engine driving the rest of the story. In the author’s note, Jarratt states that she and some co-workers were discussing motherhood anxiety dreams and “…one of my colleagues had a really traumatic one where she described how she would dream that she was driving along in the car with her two little girls when she lost control and went into a lake.” So, if you’re ever wondering, Two Little Girls is based on someone’s worst nightmare and it is emotional rocket fuel.
In simple, straightforward prose, Jarratt negotiates the emotional rollercoaster Lizzie is living through with grace and the story never feels gratuitous. Every character’s reaction is realistic—sometimes painfully so.
Once she saved one daughter, despite the obvious danger, she tried very hard to save her other daughter. It’s painful to witness Lizzie swimming out in the freezing cold water and finding only deep darkness.
“I take a great gulp of air and dive. As I plunge down, reaching and reaching for the waters below, the cold strikes me harder—a more intense chill with each foot I descend.
It eats up the breath in my lungs faster than I can believe, and suddenly I am fighting my way back to the surface, gasping and gulping at the air as my head breaks out of the water. Teeth gritted, I struggle to tread water, my limbs obeying the cold rather than my commands.
I’m going down there again, I have to.
I take another gulp of air and dive again. Kick, kick, as fast as I can. The lake water stings my eyes as I peer into the darkness, looking for a trace of light from below.
But it’s worse this time. I don’t get as far before the icy water knocks the air out of me, and I have to go back up.
I scream in frustration as I surface and slam my fist into the water. The cold, the cursed cold, and my body’s traitorous reaction not to let me drown. Rationally, I know that if I stay out here much longer, I won’t make it. But I have to try once more, because, if I can see those lights, if I can find that car, the adrenaline will kick in and carry me through.
I plunge down a third time, and I know it’s our last chance. My head is dizzy, and I am so numb. I try—I kick so hard, and I imagine the water is warm and that the car is just past my fingertips. That helps for a few moments. Until my mouth opens and lake water sucks in.”
After the crash, Lizzie tries desperately to start recovering, both physically and emotionally. She suffers from the physical damage of a car wreck, nearly drowning, and hypothermia. When she wakes after being rescued, she has no idea if the daughter she saved will be okay. The guilt is overwhelming her. Her husband, a stoic fixer type, does his best to hold everything and everyone together but Lizzie feels a gaping distance between them.
All of this is bad enough.
Then, adding fuel to this emotional fire, the police believe Lizzie may have recklessly endangered her girls. They accuse her of negligence and falling asleep at the wheel—as evidenced by the lack of braking marks. Lizzie can’t remember enough from the accident to defend herself.
But there are other reasons brake lines might fail. And discovering who is actually responsible for the accident which killed her daughter leads Lizzie through a story of self-discovery and ownership of her actions.
Be ready with Kleenex as you turn the pages of Two Little Girls. Laura Jarratt has created a moving, loving story of forgiveness and hope. Despite its sorrowful center, it’s a fast read because Lizzie, her surviving daughter, and her husband are fascinating, real-feeling characters. And the only way to find out how they come out of such a nightmarish situation is to read all the way to the last page.