Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah
During my training to become a speech-language pathologist, my classes discussed the concept of a “critical age” for language acquisition, so this book piqued my interest. The cases Hannah mentions throughout the plot are ones I learned about in graduate school.
Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates’s career is in ruins after a scandal draws national attention. Even during the worst of the media firestorm, she never thinks to seek support from her estranged sister, Ellie. When Ellie contacts her, it’s not to offer support, but to ask for her help. Ellie serves as a police chief in their hometown, near the Olympic National Forest. A six-year-old girl has emerged from the forest. Speechless from trauma, she offers no clues to her identity or her past. With her confidence shaken from months of media mayhem, Julia must find the strength to free the girl from unimaginable fear and isolation.
Julia dedicated her entire life to her career, so when her career went sideways, she had nothing left. I like how Hannah balanced Julia’s genuine desire to help the girl with the temptation to use her for professional redemption. The characters each had personal stakes in the girl’s progress, not all of them altruistic. My only criticism is that I struggled to believe that Ellie really was that blind, but I suppose even thirty-nine-year-olds miss what’s right in front of them.
The plot moves at a decent pace. The tension slows around the 2/3 mark, but it quickly rises again. Ellie’s subplot wrapped up too quickly at the end. I would’ve preferred it if she caught onto things sooner so that she could transform more gradually.
I disliked the main plot’s ending as well. To avoid spoiling anything, I’ll just say a character changes their mind when I don’t think they would, at least not so quickly.
Hannah’s prose is beautiful as always. She has hundreds of different ways to say, “it was raining again,” which I suppose is necessary when you live in the Pacific Northwest.
I was impressed by how much research the author did. Her description of Alice’s language development was close to on point. Her description of Alice’s articulation was less accurate, but not everyone would notice that.
Kristin Hannah often writes about middle-aged women hitting their mid-life crises. While Magic Hour follows many of her common themes, the premise of a girl emerging from the woods after years of isolation sparks interest into an otherwise common theme. The characters’ personal stakes and emotions keep the tension high, and the ending, while rushed and overly convenient, is satisfying.