Erin lives an idyllic life by the seaside with her baby boy and handsome Australian fiancé. She’s upbeat and happy – a natural mum. At least that’s what her thousands of followers on Instagram think.
In the real world, Erin is struggling with anxiety and finding it difficult to connect with her screaming son. So when a famous agent offers to make her the biggest instamum out there, she’s over the moon. And when Amanda, a family friend who’s visiting from Australia, says she’ll move in and babysit to help make it happen, it seems like the stars have finally aligned for Erin’s exciting new career.
But when a devastatingly revealing video is posted online by an anonymous troll, Erin’s brought crashing back to earth. As everything she’s worked for starts to slip away, Erin must find out how far she can trust those closest to her.
Meet Erin Braune. Erin used to be a struggling actress and now she’s a struggling mum. The “sugar and spice and everything nice” feeling her peers seem to have is not something she’s experienced herself, being a mum is a near constant guilt trip, and sometimes she wishes she was miles away from her bawling, howling offspring.
Meet @BRAUNEoverBRAINS, a fun sunny supermum madly in love with her super cute baby boy, influencer, queen of gorgeous pics and catchy hashtags, receiver of #gifted stuff!
One woman, two personas. Erin is really good at keeping up appearances for her Instagram followers, and her account has grown so significantly that although she truly enjoys it and it’s a form of escapism she sorely needs, she can hardly keep up with all the likes and comments and it’s become an extra source of stress.
And then Erin gets picked up by an agent who promises her the moon and stars of Instagram, she’ll be the biggest mummy-influencer in the whole Instaverse. (Seriously, Instagram influencers have agents?! Who even knew that was a thing?!). However, being in the spotlight has its downside: before long Erin is targeted by an internet troll who seems to be following her around in real life, snapping photos of her that are damaging to her image and sharing them online. Meanwhile, Amanda, an old friend of Erin’s fiancé, has popped in from Australia and seems to bond immediately with the baby, more than Erin herself ever felt capable of.
I found it so very refreshing to have a struggling mum for a protagonist. A while back I had a long talk with a girl on the brink of a postnatal depression. She was going through some of the same things as Erin and, like Erin, felt utterly alone with her feelings of inadequacy. I think it’s important to show that not all new mums are planted firmly on cloud nine, that there’s no need to feel guilty.
Does that mean I loved Erin and agreed with all her choices and actions? Weeeeell… Not quite. Her angsty paranoia sometimes made me roll my eyes, and at times I found myself thinking “seriously, Erin, WTF?!” or “get over yourself”, or “put down your bloody phone and make an effort”. On the other hand, I did feel Erin is entitled to do whatever she wants for a career, despite having a baby to take care of and a troll chasing her, if she wants to be a macroinfluencer and can make a living that way, well good for her and to hell with all the judgmental people who surround her. Everybody either wants a piece of her or wants to control her and there were moments when I got frustrated for her and just wanted to scream.
So no, I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters. However, I did keep racing through this story because I did want to know what was what. I didn’t trust anyone and I didn’t know if that was due to honest misgivings of my own or it was just Erin rubbing off on me. (In case you’re wondering: in the end I found out it was both.)
There is a lot of focus, especially for the first half or so, on Erin and her baby and her social media etc, so I think this is a thriller best enjoyed if you can relate to or at least feel for a new mum struggling with a fussy baby and if you can appreciate just how carried away one might get by social media.
The Family Friend is an entertaining and rather fast-paced thriller that’s perfect for this day and age. The combination of domestic drama and mystery really worked for me and I loved how I ended up somewhere completely different from where I thought I would.
The Family Friend is out on 4 March (hardcover, eBook and audiobook).
Thanks to Vintage for the NetGalley widget! All opinions are still my own.