The one-paragraph version: Joy Delany goes missing, and her husband Stan is the prime suspect. Joy and Stan used to run a tennis school but are now retired. As her kids try to find out what happened, they end up confronting their own issues and in their relationships with each other. Last September, a young woman named Savannah showed up asking for help stayed with Stan and Joy for a while. It turns out that Savannah is the sibling of Harry Haddad, a former star student who is now a famous tennis player. She drops a bombshell that Joy is the reason that Harry left their tennis school. That revelation causes Joy and Stan to confront the issues in their marriage. In the end, Stan is almost arrested, but then it turns out Joy is alive when she returns from a 3-week off-the-grid trip with Savannah. She needed some time apart before returning to work on their marriage. The book ends with Savannah going home to confront her own mother.
The book opens with the discovery of a bike near the side of the road and four apples next to it. It then jumps to present day, the four Delaney siblings — Brooke (29), Troy (early 30s), Logan (37), Amy (39) — discussing the disappearance of their mother, Joy Delaney, who appears to have ridden off on her bike a week ago. She sent them a text message full of gibberish and hasn’t been reachable since. They’re worried that if they go to the police, the main suspect will be their father, Stan, since Joy and Stan had a fight before the disappearance.
Joy and Stan are retirees that used to run a tennis school. Stan did the coaching while Joy ran the busines. In their younger years, they played competitively until Stan was injured. All their kids also played and excelled at tennis, however, none of them made it to the top of the sport for various reasons. Amy got too “in her head” about it, Logan never “truly committed” to the sport, Troy was too show-off-y and not strategic enough, and Brooke got migraines that ended her career.
As the book jumps back and forth in time, it’s revealed that last September, a young woman named Savannah Pagonisshowed up at Stan and Joy’s door, saying that she ended up here randomly since she didn’t know where to go after getting into a fight with her boyfriend who hit her. Stan and Joy let her stay the night, and they eventually invite her to stay until she’s sorted out. They tell Troy and Logan accompany her to her old apartment to pick up her stuff, where they have a brief but non-violent run-in with her ex-boyfriend, Dave. As Savannah stays with them, Joy is delighted that Savannah cooks for them, a task Joy has always hated.
Meanwhile, on the news, there are reports of a comeback for tennis star Harry Haddad. Harry is a former star student of Stan’s, and the subject is a sore spot for Stan because Harry ditched him as a coach before he got really famous. Stan thinks he could’ve gotten Harry even further if he’d remained his coach.
In present day, the siblings end up going to the police and Detective Christina Khoury and Constable Ethan Lim start to investigate. As they gather evidence, they see the scratches on Stan’s face and that Joy made a lengthy phone call to another man, a Dr. Henry Edgeworth, the day she left. They haven’t been able to contact Henry yet. The siblings also try to track down Savannah, who is nowhere to be found. They also find Joy’s phone underneath the bed in their parents’ room.
Flashing back to September, the book also follows each of the siblings’ lives as this is going on. Brooke runs a physiotherapy clinic and is currently separated from her husband Grant. Despite her migraines, she has always been the most resilient and responsible sibling. Logan teaches at a community college. His girlfriend Indira has recently left him after saying he was too passive and didn’t want her enough. Troy is wealthy and works as a trader. He has always been competitive, especially with Logan (who in turn has never cared to compete). Troy’s ex-wife Claire has recently asked if she could use their frozen embryos to have a child since she is having difficulty conceiving. He and Claire split because he cheated on her. And Amy is working part-time as a “taste-tester”. She has mental ailments which she struggles with and is seeing a therapist (Roger) for.
On (Australian) Father’s Day (in September), there’s a family gathering where Savannah cooks for everyone. Stan and Joy almost get into a fight about how Stan has always seen anything having to do with taking care of the kids as solely her responsibility. However, Logan changes the topic to his breakup with Indira. The family is sad because they all loved her.
Soon, Joy is hospitalized for two days due to a kidney infection. In the interim, the siblings start to suspect that Savannah is a liar when Logan realizes her story about her abusive boyfriend is copied word-for-word from an interview in a documentary. Stan also wants Savannah to leave (which later turns out to be because Savannah tried to come on to him). Soon, Logan finds Dave (Savannah’s ex), who says that he never hit Savannah. Dave says he accidentally forgot her birthday, and she walked out when a TV segment about Harry Haddad came on. Meanwhile, Brooke learns that Savannah’s last name is fake. Amy learns (with help from a guy named Simon she starts seeing) that Savannah owned a company that was shut down because it sold fraudulent tennis memorabilia. Savannah also finds Troy demands money, saying that Stan was inappropriate with her and that she’s going to tell Joy about it unless he pays up. Troy gives her the money.
In present day, Brooke works on finding Stan a lawyer. Meanwhile, the police learn about how Stan has a frustrating habit of leaving, sometimes for days, when he gets angry about stuff. Stan refuses to get a cell phone and doesn’t tell anyone where he goes. The kids think that Joy might be gone as “payback” for all those times. As the police investigate, a body is found, but it turns out not to be Joy.
Flashing back to October, with everyone’s suspicions about Savannah growing, Joy decides to investigate, too. A search of Savannah’s room shows that Savannah has an eating disorder and, more shockingly, that she knows Harry Haddad. At that moment, Savannah admits that she’s Harry sister who they met once. The family soon gathers, and Savannah explains to all of them that her parents are divorced. She stayed with her mother and their father took Harry. As a young girl, her mother wanted her to be a ballerina, so she forced Savannah to diet aggressively. One day, she came to the Delaney’s house to pick up Harry. She was desperate for some food, but everyone was mean to her and yelled at her. So, she came back to exact her revenge.
While some of the Delaneys are sympathetic (Savannah agrees to return the money she got from Troy), they still tell her she needs to leave. Before she does, Savannah drops the bombshell that Joy is the reason that Harry Haddad ditched Stan as his coach. It turns out that Joy suggested to Harry’s dad (Elias) that Harry leave because she didn’t want Stan to be traveling internationally all the time and leaving her along to raise the kids and run their business. (Joy tells them it was also so he could focus on coaching their kids, but later she admits to herself that it was more for herself and because she was angry at Stan for walking out on her all the time).
Right after Stan learns this upsetting information, he walks out. However, he doesn’t get far because he falls in a pothole and injures himself. Instead, he ends up stuck at home recovering. By Christmas, Stan and Joy parents are still not speaking to each other. When the family gathers, Joy burns some food and when Stan is rude about it, Joy destroys a decorative china cat that used to belong to Stan’s mother. After that, the siblings stay away from their parents’ house for a while.
In present day, more incriminating evidence is found. A bloody t-shirt belonging to Joy is found behind that Delaney house. And a CCTV recording shows Stan putting something bulky rolled up into his car trunk. (Around this time, Logan figures out that he really loves Indira, who has supported him through this ordeal, and, he knows he needed to truly commit to their relationship. He offers to move into a bigger place which she wanted, and he buys a ring to later propose with.)
Flashing back to this past Valentine’s Day, Joy wants to give a peace offering to Stan by making some apple crumble pie (which Stan’s mother used to make), but her bike gets a flat tire on the way back from the market and she abandons it and the apples by the street.
Instead, Stan and Joy get into a fight when Stan says he’s just read Harry’s memoir. It mentions that Harry had cheated at tennis as a kid. (Troy had said so in the past, but Stan never believed him and Joy accuses him of choosing Harry over their kids.) It escalates into an argument when Stan accuses Joy of sabotaging him. Joy, however, says that she gave up her profession, for him. She gave up tennis when he got injured and instead ran the business and raised their kids. However, Stan says that she was never good enough to get to the top, and Joy angrily says that he wasn’t the best coach for Harry (which she doesn’t actually believe). When Stan starts to walk out the door, Joy has finally had enough of him walking out and grabs at him to stop him.
(In that moment, Stan thinks about how his own father had once laid hands on his mother. He thinks about how angry he is and how he is just like his father. However, he also knows his father told him he should just walk away if he’s ever in a similar situation, which is why Stan forces himself to walk out.)
In present day, the police show up to arrest Stan, but then Joy Delaney walks in the door, looking confused. She has been on a 21-day off-the-grid retreat with Savannah. Savannah had just so happened to call her after Stan walked out (she was staying with Dr. Henry Edgeworth — someone else she was getting revenge on — at the time which is why the police though Joy had chatted with him that day), and Joy had decided she didn’t want to be there when he returned. Instead, she wanted to go away for a bit and then come back to work on their marriage. It turns out she had left a note on the fridge for Stan but it fell off and the dog must’ve eaten it. Her text to the kids also ended up full of typos and autocorrects which is why it was full of gibberish.
Stan soon lets the kids know that their mother is back and there are hugs all around. Stan promises to get a cell phone so he will not be unreachable anymore. He also removed the carpet from their living room (which is what the CCTV footage showed) while she was gone, since Joy has always wanted it gone. He later tells Joy that he “understands” about the Harry Haddad situation, and Joy admits to herself that she gave up tennis because she chose to.
Sometime later, Savannah goes home to Adelaide visit her own mother. She thinks of how her mother forced her to lose weight by locking her in her room as a child without food. When her mother takes her sleeping pills, Savannah drags her into her old room, puts some food and water in there, leaves a note telling her mother to ration it carefully and then locks her in there. She then flies off. The book ends with Savannah returning at a later time, not knowing if her mother is still in there or if she got out or if she’s still alive.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.
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