Summary: Love can redeem a man…but secrets and lies can condemn him.
A handsome stranger comes to the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls in hopes of burying his past: Once a teacher at a girls’ prep school, Jack St. Bride was destroyed when a student’s crush sparked a powder keg of accusation. Now, washing dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, he slips quietly into his new routine, and Addie finds this unassuming man fitting easily inside her heart. But amid the rustic calm of Salem Falls, a quartet of teenage girls harbor dark secrets — and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation. Now, at the center of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence: to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray, and to the woman who has come to love him.
Source: I purchased a paperback
I think I would have given Salem Falls 5 stars if I hadn’t read it right after The Pact. I did, so all I have done is compare them and come to the conclusion that Jodi Picoult novels leave me feeling vaguely frustrated and empty for some reason. I don’t know if it’s the way the story is told or what. She’s a great author and her books are thought provoking and captivating, but I hate certain aspects of them, I guess.
Salem Falls is told from multiple points of view and takes place after Jack was released from jail. Some sections go back to the past before he was convicted so that we get an overall picture of what happened. Jack and Addie immediately fall into a relationship, despite the fact that he never told her what happened. And before he could really say anything, people in town found out about his prior conviction and started harassing him. And one of particularly bad night, he ended up where he was in the first place, accused of sexual assault.
I didn’t like Jack. I understood he was innocent (at least of the first accusation). I understood he was a teacher at an all girl’s school and things happened that he couldn’t get out of. But he was an idiot. He didn’t successfully distance himself like any male teacher should have known to do. And when he realized his student had a crush, he should have taken better measures to distance himself before something bad happened. It was frustrating. And then to have him end up in the wrong place at the wrong time in Salem Falls just made me want the jury to convict him so he’d never wind up in trouble again. If people in town are actively harassing you about a sexual assault conviction, you should probably not get drunk and wander around aimlessly. I just wanted to punch him for being so stupid. Even his interactions with Gillian, where she was actively coming on to him in public, he should have told someone in the diner about so that if she did it again, someone would think to notice. A man who spend 8 months in jail should have known the power in having people on your side. I thought he might have been guilty, but then I thought there was no way. I didn’t know. I mean, what are the odds that another teenager girl would lie about it? This can’t be a real thing that happens to one person all of the time. I mean, is he somehow godlike in the looks department? Seriously.
I didn’t like Jack and Addie’s relationship. It felt physical to me. It happened really fast. And I don’t feel like they shared enough information and talked enough to have fallen in love so quickly. It became clear once Jack was accused of yet another sexual assault and Addie questioned his innocence that they obviously didn’t know each other very well. The synopsis made it seem like they had a real connection and relationship and I never really got that from them.
Despite my feelings of Jack or Addie, I enjoyed the novel. I liked that Jordan McAfee had a role in the story because I liked him in The Pact, too. His relationship with his son was great, too. I enjoyed his private investigator and getting more of their story. It was clear that the teenage girls in the story had their own problems and Gillian was a trouble maker. I liked unraveling that particular mystery. They dabbled in the occult, claiming to be Wiccans, but no one besides the occult store owner really knew about it. The trial and gathering of evidence was interesting to read about and I never knew what the jury would decide. For much of the story, I even wondered if Jack was guilty. I liked not knowing and being pushed and pulled in multiple directions.
While I enjoyed the mystery, the trial, and not really knowing what happened, it bothers me often that Picoult doesn’t give readers the truth, especially not right away. It would be easier to root for the defense or the prosecution if I knew who was right. But then again, I know that she writes her books that way for a reason. Almost every courtroom drama has a right and wrong side. Real life, however, is different. We don’t know. We throw our eggs into the basket that makes the most sense for us, but we could be wrong. I like the challenge, but it was frustrating and unfulfilling sometimes. However, Salem Falls was much more satisfying than The Pact to me because we eventually got to the bottom of the mystery.
I enjoyed Salem Falls and will certainly read more of Picoult in the future. However, it’s clear that it’s NOT a good idea to read them back to back, so I’m taking a bit of a break. I’m shocked that it took me so long to finally read her books. I always assumed she was some chick lit author who wrote light romances with suspense or mystery added in. She writes great fiction that is thought provoking, complicating, and moving.