ISBN-13: 9780062257642
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: February 2016
Format: Hardcover, 336 pgs
Source: Library

Influences often play a part in our lives. How many times have we been influenced by someone who has different thought/taste from us? Influential can help pushes one to be a better person or to a higher place if they are positive; likewise they can also be negative if they are portrayed wrongly or unwisely. 

This book tells a tale of a single mother and her eight-year-old son under the influences of others and how their lives change after meeting the Havillands couple. 

Helen McCabe's first meeting with Swift and Ava Havilland was at an art gallery opening. Her life is going through a transition then as a DUI conviction has caused her to lose not only her driver's license but the custody of her son, Oliver, as well. She still gets to see Oliver on Saturdays, but it is nothing like seeing and holding Oliver everyday. Oliver used to enjoy the time spent with his mother, now he becomes quiet and his attention focuses only on TV and any portable gaming device after he has moved to his father's place. Helen's life is miserable; her photography job is getting nowhere and she spends most evenings at AA meetings after the DUI charge. But after meeting Swift and Ava, Helen feels like she has suddenly found a direction to leading a better life and that is to forge a friendship with them and to gain their trust. 

Becoming friends with the Havillands seems easy to Helen as they are philanthropists and they are passionate animal lovers. Their kindness on the homeless and helpless always leave Helen in awe and despite Ava suffers from a spinal cord injury and has to be confined in a wheelchair, it never stops her from doing the good deeds. Helen never questions her injury, and Ava never talks about it, either. Ava soon trusted Helen enough to give her a photography/cataloguing job capturing pictures of her art collections at home and invite her to all their parties. It is like Helen has become part of their family.   

Then Helen meets Elliot, a quiet and uncool accountant on an online dating site and they hit it off quickly. However, the Havillands disapprove of her new love and dismiss him as boring. Helen likes Elliot a lot, but she also doesn't want the Havillands to think differently of her. After all, they are her only friends and her "saviour". Plus, they play an important role in Oliver's life. Oliver has fallen under Swift's charm and looks up to him like a father he never gets. Then tragedy strikes and Oliver has witnessed a devastating accident that would threaten Helen's friendship with the Havillands. 

Under the Influence might come off as a slow start in the beginning as we get to glimpse into Helen's unhappy life and see how she forms a friendship with the Havillands. Both Swift and Ava make an intriguing couple; they are the "backbone" of this story and you will be charmed by their generosity, their ever cheerful and positive traits in life; just like the way Helen did. As much as they appear to be a perfect, glamorous couple, there is something about their perfection which makes you question about them and the momentum only begins when Helen meets Elliot and we start to see a small crack in their friendship. Then, the story shifts quickly and even have that little feel of a thriller which had me very engrossed with the ending. 

Although this is a story about influences, it is also very much a story about consuming friendship, of being fitting in and of possession. It was a captivating story which had me sympathise with Helen. Her love and her yearn for Oliver's custody broke my heart and all the time while reading this story I'd hope she would get a happy life, with or without the Havillands. I like Joyce Maynard's writing and her storytelling since I read her previous novel, After Her and I was glad to note this latest release didn't disappoint. Now I need to go check out her earlier books. 
16 Responses
  1. FictionFan Says:

    Great review! I haven't come across Joyce Maynard before, but this sounds like a good read - must investigate her...

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Ah, funny you reviewed this now as I was checking my library online looking for this book but none available at the moment. It sounds like you enjoyed it. It seems to be more of a character-driven plot, but I like Ms. Maynard so will still want to look for it.

  3. jenclair Says:

    I still haven't read anything by Joyce Maynard, but this does sound good!

  4. Lark Says:

    Another author to add to my list! :)

  5. I'm very curious about this book, especially what's going on with the Havillands. Great review!

  6. Melody Says:

    FictionFan - Thank you! :-) I've enjoyed her books so far and I hope you'll give them a try.

  7. Melody Says:

    Rita - I hope your library copy will arrive quickly! Looking forward to hearing what you'll think of it.

  8. Melody Says:

    Jenclair - I hope you'll give her books a try. :-)

  9. Melody Says:

    Lark - Yay! Hope you'll enjoy it! :-)

  10. Melody Says:

    Diana - Thank you! :-) The Havillands is an intriguing couple and that's all I can say about it.

  11. The Bookworm Says:

    Under the Influence does sound good and the topic of how people can influence one another is an interesting one. Great post!

  12. Melody Says:

    Naida - Thanks, Naida! This book has a great story aside from the issue and I was glad I read it.

  13. Iliana Says:

    It's been so long since I've read anything by this author but I'm looking forward to this one!

  14. Melody Says:

    Iliana - This was a great read! I'm looking forward to reading more of her older books in the near future.

  15. I am looking forward to reading this one. I have read two books by this author so far, and both were good. She has a real talent for crafting realistic characters one can relate to. I am glad you enjoyed this one, Melody!

  16. Melody Says:

    Wendy - Yes, I agree with you on her talent for crafting realistic characters. They definitely add more intrigue and realism to the story. I hope you'll enjoy this one when you get to it, Wendy.

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