There’s a saying that no good deed goes unpunished, and in “Not So Perfect Strangers,” L. S. Stratton takes that adage to the max by showing how Tasha Jenkins suffers from the good deed she does late one night when she gives a stranger a ride. Tasha has been planning to leave her abusive husband, and she and her teenage son are staying in a hotel just prior to getting on a plane and going back South, where Tasha has family, to live. She is determined to leave D.C. and Kordell Jenkins, whose abusive tendencies have kept her basically a prisoner in her own home. To “punish” her, he took away Tasha’s car keys, her phone, her credit cards. And he hasn’t let her work. So when she finally makes plans to get away, she is shocked when her son disappears and she finds a note in their hotel room that he doesn’t want to leave his dad or his girlfriend.
Tasha can’t leave her son to the machinations of her husband, even though Ghalen is seventeen and almost a man. So she cancels her plans and is on her way back home when a woman runs after her and begs for a ride to escape her abusive husband. Tasha sees the husband, obviously irate, chasing the woman. So she impulsively does an act of kindness and gives Madison Gingell a ride to a safe place. Little does Tasha know that opening her car door to this stranger will in turn open the door to a dark episode in Tasha’s life and change her life forever.
Madison finds out that Tasha’s husband is abusive, and she decides that they can help each other. While Tasha’s response is not definitive, Madison believes (or wants to believe) that they have a deal. Madison acts upon that misunderstanding and then expects Tasha to reciprocate, but Tasha wants nothing to do with their supposed deal. Tasha finds out that Madison is not someone who will take defeat well.
But unlike the childless Madison, Tasha has a son. And no one is stronger than she is when it comes to protecting her son. Not only does Tasha turn out to be someone different from what we are led to expect, the situations presented in the novel are not what we think they are. Stratton’s ability to misdirect us is as capable as any magician. We are looking in one direction while the action is somewhere else.
Stratton forces us to consider the differences between a wealthy white woman like Madison and a not-wealthy Black woman like Tasha in terms of how they are treated by the police. Tasha, with her admittedly unlikely story, is viewed as a lunatic, but Madison, who we know is almost completely lacking in morals, blonde, well dressed, and driving a Mercedes, is treated with the utmost respect and attentiveness. It’s not surprising that with those trappings, no one wants to believe the worst of her.
Because of the manner in which Stratton shares the information, chapters with the action taking place “now,” and others taking place “before,” we think we are getting one picture of what happened the night that a house burned down with two victims inside, one who managed to survive and the other dead. But what Stratton does is take our assumptions and turn them upside down. This is an thrilling read with much to consider about marriage, prejudice, abuse, and parenting.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.