Sarah Wray was chosen from thousands of hopefuls who entered the Wow Factor, a new major writing competition. Her story, The Forbidden Room, starts with Jenny, a teenager who loses her legs and is left orphaned after a car accident that kills her mother. (Note to publisher: please don’t use phrases like ‘confined to her wheelchair’ in your back cover blurb. You’re not doing your author any favours, and it isn’t even accurate since an important element in the story is Jenny’s talent for skiing on her prosthetic legs.)
When Jenny is sent to a pleasant and seemingly happy foster home, she hopes that she has found a real family, one where she will have caring parents and a ready-made brother in sweet, five-year-old Stephen. But things are not all they seem. Jenny quickly becomes suspicious at their secrecy and when she finds a 35-year-old diary under the floorboards, she begins to unravel a story which leaves her terrified and in fear of her life. What happened to the diary writer, a foster child like herself? What happened to the couple’s two older children who died of a genetic disease and what will happen to Jenny?
This is a slow burn thriller, economically told with sympathetic and unusual characters and lots of elements to keep the reader involved. Wray does a remarkable job in taking her reader along a complicated path where it does seem believable that illegal genetic therapy has kept Stephen alive even though he inherited the same life threatening condition as his sisters. (Just about believable anyway: a certain suspension is necessary to accept the fact that neither the parents nor Stephen have visibly aged in the past 35 years, even though they’ve had to make some forays into the wider world.)
I admire Wray’s skill in finding a way to wind up this complex story. I wasn’t sure it would be possible, but she does it in a way that will leave the reader feeling optimistic.