‘In Place of Never’ by Julie Anne Lindsey

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

First things first I need to say a huge thank you to Lyrical Press for allowing me to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

“We all have scars. They aren’t always visible, but they’re there. Life’s hard on everyone, no matter what people show the world. Don’t be ashamed of these. Scars are proof of healing. Scars say you survived.” 

It’s been three years since Mercy Porter’s sister, Faith, drowned. The official cause of death was accidental drowning, but the rumours have swung from suicide to murder and back again. Mercy had completely closed herself off from the world for three years, ignoring her father and her younger sister Pru, but when she bumps into two mysterious men and discovers that the Lovell’s sideshow is back in town, she finds a renewed sense of purpose: she will solve the mystery of Faith’s final hours.
The sideshow was in town the night Faith drowned, but by the time her body was discovered the next morning the group had disappeared. Her father blames them for Faith’s death, and for the subsequent suicide of their mother, but Mercy doesn’t think it can be as easy as that. When she starts investigating she finds herself working closely with Cross, a new addition to the group, and it doesn’t take long before she’s falling in love and looking forward to her future for the first time since that fateful night.
Part mystery, part romance, I actually really enjoyed ‘In Place of Never’. It took a little time to get into it, discovering the dynamics between the characters and everything that had happened to them over the past three years, but when the story hit its stride it was near impossible to put it down.
Mercy’s struggle with depression and self-harm was written very realistically. The fact that she’d completely stopped self-harming herself but still struggled with thoughts and urges to cut made it a lot more believable that some novels I’ve read – oftentimes the self-harming isn’t treated so much as an addiction, so it was refreshing to feel Mercy’s inner turmoil.
Also written brilliantly was the relationship between Mercy, her sister Pru and their father, the town pastor. The family had been ignoring each other, living in the same home but hardly interacting, for years, and I liked the way the reassembling of their family was shown: it wasn’t all smooth sailing, and the relationship between Mercy and Pru was extremely strained at times, but in the end they bonded over the adversities that they’d both overcome and it made for a much more emotionally connecting family.
As their father is so religious he’s deeply distrusting of the Roma group – he believes their constant travelling and inability to put down roots is hedonistic and sinful – and his instant judgment is difficult for Mercy to overlook. As the story develops she manages to change his opinion about the Lovells, asking him: “Why do you assume the worst about an entire group of people? You base your judgment on your unfounded suspicions. […] You taught me not to judge and now look at what you’re doing.” and I thought it was a great way to tackle the hypocrisy of his beliefs and to make him look inside himself. For a parent to learn a lesson from one of their children makes for a good book indeed, because it certainly shows how mature the protagonist is.
The relationship between Mercy and Cross developed really nicely, too. There was an instant chemistry between them but it took a while for it to turn into something more serious: there was no instalove, which – when there’s a grieving teenager looking for someone to help her deal with her loss – was a very real possibility, so I’m glad that Julie Anne Lindsey took the less predictable route.
However, the mystery of Faith’s murder wasn’t really a mystery at all. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happened to her, but as soon as the character who caused her death first appeared in the book I was convinced that it was going to be his fault. That might mean I’ve read too many mystery novels, or it might mean that it was just downright predictable: either way it was disappointment in what was otherwise a perfect book.
If you’re interested in learning about a different culture, this book will be brilliant for you: it talked a lot about Roma beliefs and traditions, and while I felt it could have been expanded upon more I was glad to see them featured in a YA novel – particularly one that dealt with the fact that Gypsy was a derogatory term. It was also interesting to read from the perspective of a character with such a religious family, as I’m not religious at all: it was eye-opening to see how they might deal with deaths of two loved ones so close together. But if all you’re looking for is a book with a convincing relationship and a realistic look at grief and loss, I couldn’t recommend this book more strongly.