Successful small business owner Caroline Tate has channeled the profits from the past three years into detective fees and any other device that could help find her eight-year-old son, Ethan. She has been divorced from his father, Jeff, for three years. Jeff disappeared with Ethan the day the divorce was final.
A phone call from small town, California Sheriff Noah Garret advises Caroline that Jeff is dead and Ethan is in a hospital for observation. Upon arriving in California, Noah tells Caroline that her ex-husband had been living under an assumed name, had been murdered and her son has traumatic memory loss because he apparently witnessed the murder.
Noah talks Caroline into staying in California for a week hoping that Ethan, while in familiar circumstances, can remember the killing. His investigation opens up many possibilities as he falls deeper and deeper in love with Caroline.
Ethan feels he is to blame for not being able to remember what happened, which allows his father's murderer to go free. He is also having a hard time dealing with the fact that his mother is alive, since his father had explained to him that she was dead.
The problems of a child with repressed memory loss are addressed with gentleness and understanding by the author. These are not circumstances where there is a joyful reunion and everyone lives happily ever after. And this is the strength of the book; the realization that years apart underpinned by a big lie by the beloved parent, and then watching that parent murdered, are not issues an eight-year-old can easily resolve
But the weakness of the book is Caroline's constant and unrelenting anguish and unwillingness to trust her own judgment when she begins to fall in love with Noah. Fearful that Ethan could be harmed by another "man who could be like Jeff" becomes a tiresome song, especially since it is played over and over and over.
Event though the romance is disappointing, if you can get past the angst you may enjoy reading about a little boy who finds his "old mother" and a "new Secondhand Dad."