Family Next Door (Hepworth)

The Family Next Door 
Sally Hepworth, 2018
St. Martin's Press
352 pp.

Small, perfect towns often hold the deepest secrets.

From the outside, Essie’s life looks idyllic: a loving husband, a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, and a nearby mother who dotes on her grandchildren.

But few of Essie’s friends know her secret shame: that in a moment of maternal despair, she once walked away from her newborn, asleep in her carriage in a park. Disaster was avoided and Essie got better, but she still fears what lurks inside her, even as her daughter gets older and she has a second baby.

When a new woman named Isabelle moves in next door to Essie, she is an immediate object of curiosity in the neighborhood.

Why single, when everyone else is married with children? Why renting, when everyone else owns? What mysterious job does she have? And why is she so fascinated with Essie?

As the two women grow closer and Essie’s friends voice their disapproval, it starts to become clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighborhood was no accident. And that her presence threatens to bring shocking secrets to light.

The Family Next Door is Sally Hepworth at her very best: at once a deeply moving portrait of family drama and a compelling suburban mystery that will keep you hooked until the very last page. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 10, 1980
Education—Monash University
Currently—lives in Melbourne, Australia

Sally Hepworth is a former Event Planner and HR professional. A graduate of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, she started writing novels after the birth of her first child.

She is the author of Love Like The French (2014, published in Germany). The Secret of Midwives (2015), The Things We Keep (2016), and The Family Next Door (2018).

Sally has lived around the world, spending extended periods in Singapore, the U.K., and Canada, and she now writes full-time from her home in Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her husband and two children. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) [S]earing secrets and riveting realizations. Readers will be sucked in from the first page, as fast-paced …chapters make it hard to put down. With jaw-dropping discoveries, and realistic consequences …not to be missed. —Erin Holt, Williamson Cty. P.L., Franklin, TN
Library Journal

Hepworth deftly keeps the reader turning pages and looking for clues, all the while building multilayered characters and carefully doling out bits of their motivations.

Discussion Questions
1. The novel opens with quite a dramatic scene: Essie, a new mother, forgets her baby in the park and panics as soon as she realizes what she’s done. How do you think this chapter sets the tone for the rest of the novel?

2. What was your initial impression of Isabelle and, more specifically, the interactions between Isabelle and Essie? Were you as suspicious of her motives as Ange and some of the other residents of the neighborhood? Why or why not?

3. Throughout the novel, Essie struggles to balance taking care of her children, taking care of herself, and maintaining a healthy marriage. How do you see this balancing act playing out in your own life, or the life of someone close to you? How do you think this struggle shapes the experiences of women in particular?

4. The story moves between the present time and the story of an unnamed narrator in the past. How do you think this structure affected your reading experience? When the unnamed narrator was revealed, were you completely surprised?

5. Fran and Ange use running and social media, respectively, as a way to cope with the stressful situations in their lives. Do you think that Isabelle became Essie’s coping mechanism? Or did she have something else? Are the coping mechanisms the women use healthy or unhealthy, in your opinion?

6. At the core of The Family Next Door are questions about the bonds of the family you are born into vs. the family you choose for yourself. Do you have strong familial bonds in your own life, whether biological or not, and how do they affect the choices you make? Can you see any of your own relationships reflected in the novel?

7. On page 193, Leonie says to Ange, "If you tell yourself enough that life is perfect… somehow, it is." Ange disagrees, thinking, Or maybe you end up living a perfect-looking lie. Which of them do you agree with, and why? Do you believe in the power of positive thinking to create change in your life?

8. Do you think that the events of the novel led to a lasting change in Essie’s neighborhood, or only a temporary one? Do you think the women will be closer now, after their respective familial dramas, or will they still feel distant from each other?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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