By: Thomas Duffy
Publication Date: August 2016
Reviewed by: Skyler Boudreau
To Never Know follows Steven Lewis, a recent high school graduate without any solid plans for his future. Several years after graduating from high school, and a few months after leaving New York City to move to Florida with his family, he decides to reconnect with Kelly, a girl he briefly knew and possessed an unrequited love for during their final year of high school. The two have not spoken since graduation and finding her proves to be a challenge. It is only after he returns to New York City and meets Kelly’s mother that he learns it is too late to build a connection with her.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this novel. On one hand, it provides an excellent demonstration of a family coping with grief and trying to put their lives back together after being ripped apart by a tragedy. Steven and Kelly’s mother Emily help each other heal after the loss of their loved one, all the while struggling to sustain a living in one of the most expensive places in the United States.
Author Thomas Duffy builds a believable image of the fight for financial stability. After moving in with Emily, Steven is reluctant to find a job very far from her house in case she needs him during the day as she has fallen into a deep depression. That leaves a pharmacy job barely paying minimum wage as his only option. With Emily herself living off social security, they struggle to make ends meet.
This novel is essentially a portrait of two lives with very little in common intersecting by chance. Watching both characters build each other up after being torn down is inspiring.
To Never Know is not without its faults, however. While his situation is sympathetic, I did not find Steven himself particularly likeable. It was hard to empathize with him. One of the main components of the story was Steven’s regret of not having spoken to Kelly while he had the chance. He had become convinced that dating her would fix all his problems. When one of his co-workers tells him not to fear going after the things he wants, he responds in kind by saying, “She’s not a thing. She’s a person” (Duffy 29). Yet throughout the book he describes her more as an object. The only adjectives he ever uses in association with Kelly are “beautiful” and “special.” When he begins to date another woman, he spends most of their relationship wishing she was Kelly and trying to convince himself that she’s good enough.
I don’t agree with the way Steven views women, but it is fascinating to watch him realize they can be more than romantic conquests and that it is possible for people of opposite genders to have meaningful, platonic relationships. As the novel went on, Steven did mature, but I still found it difficult to connect with him.
Despite that, To Never Know did make me think, and that’s what every book should strive to make its audience do. It examines just how crippling grief can be while providing an example of two people trying to move past it.
Quill says: To Never Know will leave you conflicted and wondering what new course of life you would choose were you given the chance.