Review: The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day is a gripping, unforgettable tale of a mother's desperate search for a lost boy.

Anna Winger is an expert at flying under the radar. That’s one reason she and her teenage son Joshua have moved so many times over the years. Recently, they've moved to the small town of Parks, Indiana. A young boy has gone missing along with his mother, and Anna is asked by her good friend Kent Schaffer to help the local sheriff. Between the urging of Kent, the missing boy, and the fact that his babysitter has been found murdered, Anna can’t refuse.

The special talent Anna brings to the case is her expertise as a handwriting analyst. She usually works for the FBI, where Kent is employed. Anna is also a newspaper advisor for people who want confirmation that their significant other is the right one for them. She's so good, Joshua has taken to printing everything in block letter so she can’t read him.

Sheriff Keller has no such respect for her profession.

“I had no idea Schaffer was into this mumbo jumbo,” he said.

“He’s a leading international expert,” I said.

“In bunk,” he said. “And how did you become—whatever level of expert you are?”

“Training and apprenticeship, certifications—the way you become anything else.”

“But you didn’t become anything else,” the sheriff said.

He’s in a bind. The federal authorities have stepped in. There are no leads. But that hasn’t stopped Sheriff Keller from deciding that the mother is at fault. Anna empathizes with the woman, whose story may not be so different from her own. This puts her and the sheriff at further odds.

Leely Ransey had opened my memory like a can of tuna.

I remember: my mother, her back to me. We wouldn’t look at one another after a rage. He’d leave for the bar, for three days, for the wood, we never knew. We wouldn’t share our relief. We didn’t share anything.

Anna’s story, told from her point of view, resonated with me, and I think it will with many people. She is fiercely protective of her son. She left everyone and everything she knew to keep him safe. Anna doesn’t paint herself as a saint, though. The Madonna role doesn’t apply. Instead, she reflects on what she has lost to protect Joshua. By turns, Anna dreads coming face to face with her past and an almost unacknowledged longing for what she can never have. 

Her fear of getting close to anyone is palpable. And yet, her landlady, Joshua’s teacher, the women of the school booster club, and even people at the Sheriff’s Office all start to chip away at the hard shell Anna has built around her little family. Her landlady, Margaret, brings some welcome comic relief—even during a trip to the doctor. The crusty old woman takes no guff and doesn’t take no for an answer.

“Slow down. Well, you passed it.”

I took a deep, steadying breath and pulled into the next entrance. “Here? Urogynecology?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.

“Fine by me.”

“They’re falling out,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“My lady part,” Margaret said. “I think you parked over the line there.”

“It’s a handicapped spot. Hop out—“

“Young lady, you wouldn’t hop if you were here for what I’m here for!”

This is a real-life strong woman. Not a superhero. Not someone who can take out a man twice her size with one roundhouse kick. Not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Just a normal woman doing the best she can for her son. Anna is holding their life together, sometimes with sheer force of will. 

Like most of us here, I have quite a few friends I share book recommendations with. I recommended this book to one. Then, I remembered it wasn’t released yet. She wasn’t thrilled with that news but was intrigued by what I shared with her. She may have preordered it. I am confident she will enjoy it as much as I did. 

I don’t know you, but I think you will too. 


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Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo's Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel.

Read all of Debbie Meldrum's posts for Criminal Element!


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