The House Guests: A Novel
Did you ever believe your life was perfect only to find out it's not? Cassie Costas's life in Manhattan is wonderful. She is married to Mark Westmore, the love of her life, and raising his teenage daughter, Savannah. She and Mark wed when Savannah was three, and she relishes her life as a wife and mother. Savannah’s biological mom, Gen, consumed by her career and stating she's not mother material, gives Cassie carte blanche to raise her child. Cassie could not adore Savannah more if she gave birth to her.
Mark’s demeanor changes and things become tense around the house, but when he perishes in a boating accident, Cassie and Savannah's lives fall apart. The once gregarious 15-year-old is now belligerent and argumentative toward Cassie. When she is expelled from the prestigious school she attends, Cassie believes they both need a fresh start. They head to Tarpon Springs, FL, Cassie's hometown, and where her relatives reside. Cassie purchases a large home, and they settle in, though somewhat acrimoniously.
Savannah feels she is an outcast at her new school—the same one Cassie attended—and she befriends two girls who also seem to be outsiders to the rest of their classmates. One day after school, they head to a strip mall, where Savannah spots a zippered pouch lying on the ground. She finds it is filled with a wad of folded cash inside but there is no identification. Suggesting they turn this over to the police, her friends—purple-haired foster kid, Helia, and Minh, whose family moved from Vietnam—tell her the cops will keep the money for themselves. They contend she should host a party which would help them become popular in school. Savannah considers this for several moments, but they wear her down. The following weekend, knowing Cassie will be in New York to settle her father's finances, Savannah decides to go along with the plan. She is angry at Cassie, blaming her for her dad's death, remembering the explosive argument they had before he went out on his boat.
Meanwhile, Amber Blair, single mother to teenage son Will, approaches the thrift shop to buy a special T-shirt for Will. At the checkout, she discovers her pouch with her rent money is missing. She panics and knows her landlord will evict her, as things are precarious between them since she was late with her payment before. Agonizing about the fact she will need to uproot her son again, she arrives home only to learn she is being thrown out. Where will they go now?
As they prepare to leave, Travis Elliot, a freelance journalist, states he heard from her neighbor about her predicament, and he wants to write an article about her. Amber needs to keep their anonymity and refuses his request, but when he promises to omit her name and other identifying factors, she agrees, yet believing nothing will help return her funds.
On Cassie’s trip to New York, she learns Mark’s savings are gone, and this is after she purchases a large home in a gated community in FL. She cannot believe this is happening, but she knows she must take some responsibility for she let Mark handle all their monetary matters. She returns to FL angry, confused, and upset only to walk into her house a day earlier than planned and find her beautiful home totally trashed. How much more can she take?
Livid with Savannah, she insists on learning where she got the cash to pay for the party. When Savannah reluctantly confesses about finding the pouch full of money, Cassie is beside herself with anger and disbelief. Meanwhile, Travis, who is a distant cousin to Cassie, later releases his article about Amber. Cassie puts two and two together and confronts Savannah about this. She is outraged that Savannah's actions caused a family to lose their home, so with Travis's help, she searches for Amber, finding her and Will living in a tent at a local campground. She pressures her to move in with her and Savannah, insisting her home is big enough for all of them. Though Amber is shocked and refuses, Cassie makes her an offer she can't resist.
Now we face a situation with unrelated individuals living under the same roof with their own problems and secrets. Savannah is reluctant to befriend Amber and Will, for she, too, is suffering from the guilt of her actions. As time passes, they become a cohesive family.
Cassie, still devastated to learn Mark's retirement funds are gone, tries to get to the bottom of the situation, which has her uncovering things she’d rather not know, but needing to put the missing puzzle pieces together.
Meanwhile, Amber is hiding her own confidences—secrets she won't even share with her son. Reticent about her past, this makes Cassie wonder if she's fleeing from the law or if she and Savannah could be in danger by her presence in their home.
This engrossing and suspenseful novel encompasses the trials of two different families who come together, demonstrating the meaning of family is not just determined by blood ties. Secrets are withheld presumably to protect, but only validate problems that produce terrifying scenarios. Cassie’s Greek ancestry is well documented with descriptions of meals served in her grandmother’s restaurant and the traditions they share, which adds much significance to the plot. The many interesting background characters offer insight into the situations both Cassie and Amber encounter, impacting the peril they face as well as adding substance to the story. This is a compelling page-turner one won't want to put down.