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"Prom Mom" | Reviewed by Susan Ferguson

“Prom Mom,” by Laura Lippman, is a suspenseful read based on a true story. The thriller is intense, addictive and sinister, a character-driven story that is full of lies, betrayals, and backstabbing.

The book opens in 1997 with 16-year-old Amber Glass eagerly awaiting her high school prom. She is going with the most popular boy in school, Joe Simpson, whom she has been tutoring all year. Amber is a bit quirky and is thrilled that Joe has asked her to prom. Although they have been intimate and Amber is in love with Joe, it is more of a “friends with benefits” relationship for Joe.

Things go astray at the prom when Joe’s ex hits on him. Things escalate when Amber sees Joe dancing with his ex and finds herself feeling ill. Demanding the hotel key from Joe, Amber heads to their hotel room. Amber doubles over in pain and then passes out. When she awakens, she showers, dresses and heads home.

Readers soon learn that Amber has left behind a deceased newborn, wrapped in a towel in the hotel room. The police show up at her front door accusing her of murdering the baby. Amber has no memory of what has happened. No one, not even Joe, knew she was pregnant.

The media blows the story up, referring to Amber as the Prom Mom. Amber spends the next two years incarcerated. She is released when she turns 18 and has a sealed record. Amber decides to move to New Orleans and start over.

Fast forward to 2019—Amber has inherited her stepfather’s modest home back in Baltimore. Amber goes to Baltimore to sell the house, but finds herself staying in the city. She is still obsessed with Joe Simpson. She soon learns everything she can about Joe and his plastic surgeon wife Meredith. Like Amber, Meredith is crazy about Joe and acquiesces to his every whim.

Everything changes when Amber and Joe renew their friendship. Readers soon learn that Amber is cold and calculating, and that Joe is a pathetic liar and a cheater. Meredith is self-centered and a perfectionist. The chapters alternate between the three characters and their two timelines. All three are unlikeable and immoral and their combo soon turns deadly, prompted by a double crossing, murder, and an unexpected ending.

“Prom Mom” has a surprise ending that caught me by surprise, yet I found it satisfying in a warped sort of way. Readers who like contemporary psychological thrillers, are sure to enjoy this novel.

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