The Night Olivia Fell

The Night Olivia Fell

by Christina McDonald

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Overview

In the vein of Big Little Lies and Reconstructing Amelia comes an emotionally charged domestic suspense novel about a mother unraveling the truth behind how her daughter became brain dead. And pregnant.

A search for the truth. A lifetime of lies.

In the small hours of the morning, Abi Knight is startled awake by the phone call no mother ever wants to get: her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the angry bruises circling Olivia’s wrists.

When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened that night. Heartbroken and grieving, she unravels the threads of her daughter’s life. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?

Christina McDonald weaves a suspenseful and heartwrenching tale of hidden relationships, devastating lies, and the power of a mother’s love. With flashbacks of Olivia’s own resolve to uncover family secrets, this taut and emotional novel asks: how well do you know your children? And how well do they know you?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501184017
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 02/05/2019
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 34,749
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Christina McDonald is the USA TODAY bestselling author of Behind Every Lie and The Night Olivia Fell, which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio. Originally from Seattle, Washington, she now lives in London, England, with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Tango.

Read an Excerpt

The Night Olivia Fell
october

I woke abruptly, dreams tumbling from me in cottony wisps. I couldn’t remember falling asleep, but the lamp on my bedside table had been switched off, the only light a full, glowing moon outside my window.

The phone was ringing.

“Olivia?” I murmured, hoping she’d get it so I wouldn’t have to. My daughter was one of those people who could wake up and fall asleep as if flipping a switch.

I rolled over and peered at my alarm clock. The red lights blinked 4:48 a.m. Nobody called at this time of night with good news.

I bolted upright and grabbed the phone, the feather duvet sliding from my body, leaving my bed-warmed arms cold and exposed.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this Abigail Knight?” The voice—a man’s—was low and tight, coiled like a viper about to strike.

“Yes.”

“This is Portage Point Hospital. It’s about your daughter, Olivia. I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”

× × ×

I ran down the hall to Olivia’s room, cold wings of fear fluttering in my stomach.

Her door was shut and I threw it open thinking, irrationally, that she’d sit up in bed blinking her eyes at me sleepily. I imagined, hoped, that she’d be angry at me for invading her teenage space. She’d throw a pillow at me, and I’d laugh weakly, clutching my chest with one hand as my heart rate returned to normal.

“I had a terrible dream,” I’d say.

“I’m fine, Mom,” she’d reply, looking at me with all the scorn a seventeen-year-old could muster. “You worry too much.”

But her room was silent and empty, her bed a jumble of blankets. Dirty clothes spilled from the laundry basket in her half-open closet. Sheaves of paper were scattered in a disorganized jumble on her dresser.

I lurched out of the room, down the stairs, and into my car.

Last night, at the Stokeses’ barbecue, she’d been fine.

But, no. I shook my head, really remembering. No, she wasn’t fine. She hadn’t been fine for a while.

Maybe it was just the typical moodiness of a teenager, but this felt different. Olivia was usually sunny and sweet. She was an easy teenager. The girl who never partied, got straight As, helped all her friends with their homework.

Lately she seemed distracted and temperamental, irritable whenever I asked what was wrong. And then there were the questions about her father.

She wants the truth.

The thought came fast, an ugly surprise. I set my teeth against it. I’d worried for so long that all the lies I kept hidden on the dark side of my heart would one day be washed into the open. These lies, my past, kept me always on guard.

× × ×

October drizzle coated the car, and a handful of brown leaves covered the windshield. The acidic feeling in my stomach clawed its way up toward my throat as I wrenched the car door open and threw myself inside. For once my old beater car started without any hesitation, as if it too knew we had to hurry.

I tore out of the driveway, my tires spinning in the gravel. I flicked the wipers on, but a single dead leaf was caught, wiping a jagged, wet arc across the windshield, back and forth, back and forth.

I thought of the last time I’d gone to the hospital with Olivia—she’d broken her arm falling out of the ancient willow tree in the backyard when she was ten. My guilt had been overwhelming. I’d failed at the most important job I would ever have: keeping her safe.

I gripped the leather steering wheel hard, securing myself to the present while the past threatened to overtake me. My car squealed as I whipped around a corner too sharply. I was being reckless, I needed to slow down, but Olivia . . .

I couldn’t even finish the thought. My daughter was my center of gravity, the only thing tying me to this earth. Without her, I’d surely float into space, a kite with its string severed by glass.

I pressed my foot hard against the accelerator as my knees began to shake. The decaying leaf was still stuck to the wiper but it had been ripped in half now, leaving the shape of a broken heart behind.

I braked sharply as I rounded the last corner and skidded into the hospital parking lot. It was nearly empty, one ambulance parked at the front, a handful of cars scattered across the lot. Streetlamps glinted against the wet pavement. I slammed on my brakes in a spot near the entrance just as the last half of the leaf in my windscreen was mercilessly ripped away.

× × ×

I staggered into the hospital, cracking my elbow hard on the sliding door. Pain seethed toward my fingertips but didn’t slow me down. I needed to find Olivia.

Please, please be okay.

A doctor appeared suddenly from a set of swinging doors. His steps were brisk, the swift, resolute walk of a man who knew what he was doing. Behind wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes were bloodshot when they landed on me.

“Abigail Knight?” I could just make out the clipped voice I’d heard on the phone. He had thinning white hair and a close-shaven face. Around his neck hung a stethoscope. His white coat had a rust-colored smear across the front.

He stepped closer and held one hand out to me. His eyebrows, thick as caterpillars, were pinched together.

“Where’s Olivia?” I gasped, feeling like I would hyperventilate. People were staring, but I didn’t care. “Where’s my daughter?”

I tried to sidestep him, but he moved his body to block me.

“I’m Dr. Griffith.” He took a step closer. I could see the flecks of gold in his brown eyes. “Will you come with me?”

“Why?” My voice sounded too high, the words crushed on my tongue. “Where’s Olivia?”

“I’m going to take you to her, but first we need to talk. Perhaps somewhere a bit more private.” The doctor’s tone conveyed the gravity of what he had to say. The weight of it kept the frantic questions in my throat from vomiting out.

I looked around at the busy waiting room. A handful of people openly stared at us, while the rest fiddled with cell phones or pretended to read newspapers.

I nodded, a small jerk of my chin.

Dr. Griffith led me through the swinging doors and down a brightly lit corridor to a private meeting room. The room smelled of floral potpourri and was decorated in pale pastels. The floor was shiny, the color of cinnamon, the walls a washed-out cream.

“Please. Sit.” Dr. Griffith motioned toward a cushioned taupe chair. I sat stiffly on the edge.

He crossed to a water cooler in the corner of the room. A hulking tower of plastic cups, white, like vertebrae, leaned on a low black table next to it. He swiped one and filled it with water. The cooler gurgled and belched as air drifted to the top.

He thrust the cup toward me, but I just stared at it. I couldn’t seem to get my hand to take it. Eventually he set it on the table.

Dr. Griffith dragged a plastic chair from the wall and placed it across from me. The scraping of its feet against the floor set my teeth on edge. He sat, planted both feet on the ground, pressed his elbows against his knees, and steepled his fingers, as if in prayer.

“There’s been an accident—” he said, repeating his earlier words.

“Is Olivia okay?” I interrupted.

But the way he was looking at me. With pity. I knew.

An intense desire to run hit me. My shins still burned from my run yesterday morning, my thigh muscles ached, but I felt the pang hit my body hard.

I jumped up, looking around wildly. The doctor stood, eyeing me as if I were a wild animal. But the urge to know kept me rooted to my spot.

“Tell me. . . .” I rasped.

“Your daughter . . .” Dr. Griffith touched my forearm. His hand was heavy, cool against my clammy skin.

He said something about an accident.

Somebody finding Olivia at the bottom of an embankment near the ZigZag Bridge.

Something about a grand mal seizure, corneal reflexes, and a Glasgow score of four.

He said something about a head wound, about fixed and dilated pupils and a CAT scan.

That they’d taken her in for surgery as soon as she’d arrived.

I couldn’t make sense of any of it.

I collapsed on the chair, bending forward until my head was between my knees, as if preparing for a crash landing. I could hear my heart throbbing in my chest, the blood roaring in my ears, the harsh hiss of my breath as it rushed in and out of me in sharp, hollow gasps. My elbow throbbed painfully where I’d banged it.

“No . . . no . . .” I pleaded over and over, clenching and unclenching my sweat-soaked hands.

The doctor sat next to me, his voice breaking through the heavy, viscous bubble surrounding me.

“—sustained severe head trauma. I’m really sorry, Mrs. Knight, but your daughter has suffered permanent and irreversible brain damage.”

My mind reeled, trying to assimilate these facts into something that made sense. Shards of his words assaulted me through a roar of panic.

“Is there someone we can call . . . ?”

Who was there? My mom was dead. I never knew my dad. There was no husband, no boyfriend. I was too busy being a mother to date, too busy to have friends. There was only . . .

“My sister.” My voice sounded very far away, as if it came from down the hall rather than my own mouth.

I wrote Sarah’s number on a scrap of paper. He took it and opened the door, handed it to somebody, then sat back down across from me.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Knight, we did everything we could to save her, but Olivia won’t wake up. Right now she’s attached to life support that’s keeping her body alive.” He licked his lips, on the verge of saying something else. “But she . . .”

“She’s an organ donor,” I whispered numbly.

It was what they wanted, wasn’t it? The day she got her driver’s license Olivia had signed up to save another’s life. “You know,” she’d said, shrugging with the confidence the young have that they’re impervious to death. “If it ever came to that.” My kind, gentle girl.

“No, that’s not— What I mean to say is, we can’t legally turn Olivia’s life support off in her condition.”

I didn’t understand. It was as if he had suddenly started speaking Urdu. A throb began pulsing under my eyes.

He cleared his throat, his eyes scurrying momentarily away from mine. “We can’t turn life support off from a pregnant woman. Not in Washington State.”

“Wh—” I breathed. My body went limp, boneless, my head spinning.

“Olivia was—is—Olivia’s pregnant.”

Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for The Night Olivia Fell includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Christina McDonald. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

In the small hours of the morning, Abi Knight is startled awake by the phone call no mother ever wants to get: her teenage daughter, Olivia, has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain-dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the angry bruises circling Olivia’s wrists.

When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened that night. Heartbroken and grieving, she unravels the threads of her daughter’s life. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?

Christina McDonald weaves a suspenseful and heartwrenching tale of hidden relationships, devastating lies, and the power of a mother’s love. With flashbacks of Olivia’s own resolve to uncover family secrets, this taut and emotional novel asks: How well do you know your children? And how well do they know you?

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Consider the novel’s structure of Abi’s and Olivia’s alternating viewpoints and time periods. How do you think the reading experience might have been different if the story had been told chronologically? What about if it had been told by either one narrator or from a third-person point of view?

2. Compare and contrast Abi’s and Olivia’s perceptions of each other from what we learn about each woman through their own words in their designated chapters. Discuss the discrepancies between who they are and who the other person thinks they are.

3. It’s clear that Abi and Olivia love each other deeply, but as with any mother-daughter relationship, they sometimes misunderstand each other. Are there any moments in the novel in which you feel they could have communicated better? Do any of these scenes remind you of moments in your own life with your mother or daughter? If you feel comfortable doing so, consider sharing them with your book club.

4. “Mom told me I should stand up to her. Tyler said I always saw the best in people. The truth was, neither of them was right. I was just scared of not being liked” (p. 12). Discuss this statement of Olivia’s and compare it to Abi’s statement of “I was really more of an observer than a participator. I was better at standing on the sidelines” (p. 43). While Olivia may seem more social on the outside, how do both women isolate themselves from others?

5. When Anthony tells Abi that he’s “just grateful I have [my mother] at all,” Abi thinks, “It was a funny answer, so different from how I would look at it. But he was right” (p. 113). What else does Abi learn from Anthony about coping with grief?

6. Sarah tells Olivia about an experiment from her college psychology class where the teacher asked the class if they would prefer happiness or truth. Sarah’s class chose happiness, but Olivia says she would choose truth, and claims that it brings happiness in itself. Consider these two statements. Do you think truth and happiness are mutually exclusive? Which would you choose?

7. “I was scared. Of rejection. Of loss. Of hurt. Of being anything other than Olivia’s mom” (p. 143). Why do you think Abi uses being a mother—the most vulnerable occupation of all—as a crutch to protect herself from the world?

8. When Kendall pretends she doesn’t know Olivia, Olivia is deeply hurt, and says that “the rejection was like acid in my stomach. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong” (p. 153). Compare Olivia’s feelings of rejection from Kendall, her half-sister, to Abi’s feelings of rejection from Gavin, Olivia’s father, years ago.

9. “Being a mother wasn’t something you just ‘handled’ . . . her death didn’t have anything to do with me at all” (p. 189). How do you think reading her mother’s suicide note and learning more about her mother’s death helped Abi cope with losing Olivia?

10. Mother-daughter relationships form the core of The Night Olivia Fell. Compare and contrast the relationships between Abi and Olivia, Abi and her mother, Olivia and her baby, as well as the relationship between Abi and Sarah, who plays a maternal role in Abi’s life, the relationship between Madison and Jen, and any others you can think of!

11. When Kendall and Olivia spend time together, Olivia eventually realizes she’s fond of her. “It was cool that she might be my sister. I’d always wanted siblings” (p. 171). Compare Kendall and Olivia’s relationship as half-sisters to Abi’s relationship with Sarah.

12. “If my mom had gotten an abortion, I wouldn’t even be alive, so I couldn’t do that to this baby”(p. 276). Compare Olivia’s reaction to her pregnancy to Abi’s reaction to her pregnancy with Olivia years before.

13. Olivia says, “My mom taught me that: Look to the future and you won’t stumble on the present . . . I knew now why she was like that, and maybe it wasn’t something you could unlearn, but I didn’t want to be like that” (p. 291). Discuss the merits of living in the present versus planning with the future with your book club. Is there a way to balance both in our lives?

14. Author Christina McDonald keeps us guessing throughout the novel on who was ultimately to blame for Olivia’s tragic death. When the guilty party is revealed, was it the person you suspected? Why or why not? If not, who else did you suspect, and why?

15. Throughout the novel in the present day, Olivia is kept on life support so she can carry her unborn child to term. Is it morally or ethically right to keep a woman, let alone a teenager, on life support to keep a baby alive? Respectfully discuss your views with your book club.

16. “I let myself stand on that cliff and peer over the edge into the future, at the happiness that I could have one day if I would only allow it” (p. 129). Do you think Abi finally allows happiness to come to her at the end of the novel? How else does she grow as a character at the end of the novel?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Consider reading other novels centering around domestic suspense and mothers and daughters with your book club, such as Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight or What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross. Compare their similarities and differences with The Night Olivia Fell.

2. The lush landscape of the Pacific Northwest is featured prominently in The Night Olivia Fell. To better understand the novel’s setting, do some Internet research on some of the locales the novel mentions, such as Puget Sound, the University of Washington, and Mercer Island—or, if you live in the area, consider a field trip!

3. At one point in the novel, Derek claims that he didn’t tell the police he was the baby’s father because “I’ve seen CSI . . . they’d think I was the one who hurt Olivia or something” (p. 241). Consider watching an episode of a crime TV show like CSI with your book club, and discussing how television influences our views of criminal investigations. Compare them to the novel’s treatment of crime—what similarities or differences do you notice? Is one more believable than the other? Why do you think so?

4. Visit the author’s website at www.christina-mcdonald.com to learn more about her. Research some of her journalism for outlets such as The Sunday Times (Dublin), the Galway Independent, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

A Conversation with Christina McDonald

What inspired you to write The Night Olivia Fell? How did you visualize the cast of rich and varied characters and their emotions?

Back in 2013 I was rocking my new baby to sleep while reading the news on my phone. I came across a story about a teenager in California, Jahi McMath, who had been declared brain-dead after a routine tonsillectomy went wrong. My first thought was for the girl’s mother and how utterly heartbreaking it would be to lose your child. I think this is every mother’s biggest fear – it’s certainly mine!

After reading that story, I looked down at my new baby and imagined myself in Jahi’s mom’s position, and I started asking myself, “What if?” What if her daughter was pregnant? Would that be a comfort or a curse? What if she’d suffered her own tragedies in her past? What if she were a single parent? What if she thought her daughter had been murdered, but nobody believed her? And thus was born The Night Olivia Fell.

How does your experience as a journalist and copywriter inform your fiction writing? Do you find any connections between writing news and writing thrillers?

I started as a journalist, so obviously I’ve seen some crazy stories. I think a lot of these stories cemented in my head and they’ve given me a great launching point. But to write a novel you have to connect with your characters and the journey they go through. I learned that in copywriting. As a digital copywriter I had to guide a reader through different steps to get to the resolution I wanted them to reach, much the way an author has to when writing a book.

Being a copywriter and journalist gave me a huge appreciation for emotion, mostly because you have to take it all out when writing a piece. I like feeling things; I like the emotion I feel when I read, so this is the aspect where I feel most free when writing a book. Using sensory words that are vivid and evoke a taste or a smell—those things get lost a little in news (less so for copywriting), but I love words and how rich and varied they are.

You were born in the Seattle area, where the novel takes place, and you render the area’s atmosphere so vividly throughout the novel. Can you talk about why you chose Seattle as the book’s setting?

I chose Seattle and the Puget Sound area literally because I was born there and have such a great history of experiences there. It was an easy place to use as a setting because it is so beautiful and varied. And I figure if you know it, write it. So I did!

Besides Seattle, you’ve also lived in Ireland and London. Can you talk a bit about how each place informed your worldview, and subsequently, your writing?

I think each place I’ve lived has given me a rich perspective in seeing how people live, gathering more details about location, and meeting a variety of wonderful people. I’ve seen so many different people living different lives and having different experiences than what I would’ve done just by living in one place.

It’s (I hope!) also made me far more open-minded, so I can now see that the way one person does things, or the way one country does things, may be different from another, but they’re simply doing what’s right for them in their particular set of circumstances. This ability to see both sides of the same coin has helped me create better characters, I think, who are more like real people: a mix of good and bad, right and wrong.

On your website, you say that choosing to go to graduate school in Ireland “wasn’t part of the master plan,” but the result of a spontaneous trip. Can you tell that story a bit more in detail? Did you have another plan in mind?

I graduated from the University of Washington in 2001, and there were just no jobs in media or journalism. So I decided to work as a waitress for a year and save up to go traveling. I bought a ticket to London and headed off on my grand adventure, vaguely aware I wanted to go to Europe, but with no hard plans, accommodations, or bookings. Now I wonder what I was thinking, but then I guess I just wanted to be open to do whatever came up.

So I landed at London’s Heathrow very early in the morning and was completely disoriented and jet lagged. I gathered my backpack and stumbled out of baggage claim and the first desk I came across was Aer Lingus. Completely on a whim, I bought a seat on the next flight to Ireland. I spent an absolutely amazing month traveling around Ireland, meeting some of the most incredible people and having the best time of my life.

At some point I ended up in Galway, and one night I was at the King’s Head on Shop Street. Over a pint (Bulmers Cider for me!) a guy told me about a great master’s in journalism program they had at the university in Galway. After I returned to Seattle I promptly applied, got accepted, sold all my stuff, and moved to Ireland, where I met my future husband.

It’s one of those pivotal moments that completely changed the course of my life. I often wonder what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t seen that Aer Lingus desk!

How do you deal with writer’s block? What drives you to keep going when you figuratively “hit a wall” while writing?

I sleep on it! Our minds subconsciously untangle problems when we’re sleeping, so a lot of the time I’ll have figured out the problem in my sleep and it will pop into my conscious thoughts at some point in the day. If this doesn’t work, I talk it out. I tell my husband or my friends what I’m thinking, and usually I’ve sorted it out by the end of my monologue. Hearing things out loud or getting another’s perspective really helps.

What are some of your favorite novels or authors? If you had to pick one that you think has inspired you the most, who or what would it be?

One of my favorite authors of all time is Jodi Picoult. Her book My Sister’s Keeper impacted me so much, in terms of emotion and structure, characters’ POV, and the evocative use of words. Ditto John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. I’m not a crier, so if an author can make me cry, I know they’ve done something right. I also really love thrillers by authors like Heather Gudenkauf, Mary Kubica, and Clare Mackintosh.

What do you like to do in your spare time other than writing?

I have two young boys, so I don’t have a lot of free time. But when I do I’m a huge bookworm, so I like to read. I also love going to the gym and walking my dog in the park.

Are you working on anything now that you’d like to share with us?

I’m working on a new domestic suspense novel set in Whidbey Island and London, in which a woman wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and can’t remember if she killed her mother.

What do you most want readers to take away from The Night Olivia Fell? What emotion do you hope lingers in their minds when they close the book?

Well, The Night Olivia Fell is a suspense novel, so I hope I keep readers flipping pages as they’re trying to guess whodunit. But I also hope readers fall in love with Abi and Olivia and the world they inhabit. I want readers to have tears in their eyes and hope in their hearts, and I hope they really feel and understand the whole theme of the novel, which is that a mother’s loyalty to her child is undying, even in the face of death.

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