Title: What Happened to Hannah
Author: Mary Kay McComas
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Hannah Benson ran away from an abusive home as a teenager, and she has never looked back. That is, until she receives a phone call years later from her former high school boyfriend, Grady Steadman. Grady informs her that Hannah’s mother and sister, Ruth, have both died, leaving Ruth’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anna, alone. Hannah reluctantly returns to her hometown in order to meet Anna, the niece she never knew she had, and face her demons, once and for all.
What Happened to Hannah is the story of an abused girl coming home to confront the ghosts of her past. The thing that makes it difficult for Hannah is that it’s not by choice. She thinks she has closure, that she has put her troubled childhood behind her, but from the first page, it’s clear that isn’t the case. Returning home rips open wounds, but Hannah barely has time to process these hurts because she must focus on her niece. Hannah has a new center of her world, and for once, it isn’t her own pain.
The story of What Happened to Hannah is an emotional one. Hannah badly needs healing, but she also needs to help Anna through this difficult time. Anna is a great teenager, what any guardian might hope for when meeting their fifteen-year-old niece for the first time. She’s well-adjusted, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have fears of her own. Why didn’t Hannah ever bother to visit her? What happens now, if Hannah doesn’t want her?
The novel moves at a steady pace, through the difficult terrain of the past and the wide-open future. McComas’ prose is clear and makes the novel flow quickly and smoothly. Readers will adore Hannah, as damaged as she is; it’s clear what her “big secret” is from the beginning, but it seems as though that was intentional on the author’s part. This isn’t a mystery novel, which might keep the reader guessing, but a book about a woman overcoming her past.
There are many novels out there about women with abusive childhoods, and What Happened to Hannah is definitely one of the better ones. It’s emotional without being manipulative, and it’s very honest. The characters are wonderfully drawn and realistically flawed. If you’re looking for an action-packed psychological thriller or a gripping mystery, this is not it. But if you’re looking for a character-driven women’s fiction novel with heart, especially for your book club, What Happened to Hannah is a great pick.