Barbara Graham | What Jonah Knew

The Book: 

What Jonah Knew by Barbara Graham
Published July 5th 2022 by Harper Paperbacks
Date read: July 6th, 2022

The Characters: 

Helen and Henry Bird
Lucie, Matt, and Jonah Pressman

Buy it on | Amazon

The Plot (from Goodreads):

A seven-year-old boy inexplicably recalls the memories of a missing 22-year-old musician in this psychological thriller about the fierce love between mothers and sons across lifetimes, a work of gripping suspense with a supernatural twist that will mesmerize fans of Chloe Benjamin and Lisa Jewell.

Helen Bird will stop at nothing to find Henry, her musician son who has mysteriously disappeared in upstate New York. Though the cops believe Henry’s absence is voluntary, Helen knows better.

While she searches for him—joined finally by police—Jonah is born to Lucie and Matt Pressman of Manhattan. Lucie does all she can to be the kind of loving, attentive mother she never had, but can’t stop Jonah’s night terrors or his obsession with the imaginary “other mom and dog” he insists are real.

Whether Jonah’s anxiety is caused by nature or nurture—or something else entirely—is the propulsive mystery at the heart of the novel.

All hell breaks loose when the Pressmans rent a summer cottage in Aurora Falls, where Helen lives. How does Jonah, at seven, know so much about Henry, Helen’s still-missing son? Is it just a bizarre coincidence? An expression of Jung’s collective unconscious? Or could Jonah be the reincarnation of Henry?

Faced with more questions than answers, Helen and Lucie set out to make sense of the insensible, a heart-stopping quest that forces them to redefine not just what it is to be a mother or a human being, but the very nature of life—and death—because of what Jonah knows.

Click here for book spoilers for What Jonah Knew
Book spoilers ahead–if you haven’t yet read What Jonah Knew, I suggest you turn back now.

The Twist:

As mentioned in the blurb, Jonah could remember some of Henry’s memories. Henry was stuck in some kind of in-between afterlife while his mom mourned him and searched for answers. Through Jonah’s memories, it was discovered that Mira’s new husband Jackson had killed him. Jackson had dated Mira in high school, but was jealous when she left him for Henry. He killed and buried Henry in the woods behind their house, which was why he never let the dog back there.

The Ending:

Charlie the dog found Henry’s grave. As Jonah was trying to get Charlie to go back to the house, Jackson found them and shot Charlie (he was okay in the end). Jackson was threatening Jonah, but Will the cop found them in time thanks to Helen’s sleuthing. Jonah was able to tell Helen where Henry was buried, so Helen was able to put him to rest at last.

The Review: 

What Jonah Knew is a fascinating exploration of the possibility of reincarnation, wrapped in the style of a psychological thriller. This plot was truly original and such an enjoyable read!

Here’s a bit of the blurb: “A seven-year-old boy inexplicably recalls the memories of a missing 22-year-old musician in this psychological thriller about the fierce love between mothers and sons across lifetimes, a work of gripping suspense with a supernatural twist.”

Now, I don’t mind supernatural books at all when it’s mentioned upfront (unlike, ahem, other books that market themselves as thrillers but the “twist” is supernatural and unguessable). I greatly appreciate that this blurb was honest and set my expectations from the start! When I know a book is supernatural before I begin, I am able to suspend all belief and just enjoy the story.

And there was so much here to enjoy! Graham writes real, deep characters struggling with grief and motherhood. Helen is still mourning the loss of her son seven years on. Lucie is struggling with how to best help her boy who is suffering from inexplicable trauma that she is unable to understand. Mira married the wrong man and is trying to extract herself from an unhappy marriage. Despite the supernatural aspect of this story, there is a lot for readers to relate to among these characters.

Throughout the book, the reader is treated to scenes from Henry’s perspective, both before and after his death. These flashes were so well-imagined and unique, and really added to my enjoyment of the book.

I appreciated how Graham referenced scientific studies and religious beliefs along the way to “prove” the supernatural aspect. It provided some credibility that Matt the doctor was skeptical at first, but came around once his wife showed him the proof.

I also loved the scenes that show a bond between a child and his dog–I’m such a sucker for a good doggie sidekick!

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