Book Review: You Don’t Know What I Have Done, by Sheila McNaughton

Genre: General fiction/Family life fiction


A large extended family, mere weeks into grieving the passing of their patriarch, is confronted with evidence that the family matriarch, Maggie, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. As Maggie’s children, Lizzie, Ian, and Kevin, along with their spouses, attempt to care for her, Maggie begins to reveal shocking details from her past. She speaks of a sibling her children had never heard her mention before, an entirely different way in which she met their father, Sam, and a murder she’s claiming she committed decades prior in her home country of Ireland. With their father no longer alive to tell them what’s real and what’s the result of Maggie’s Alzheimer’s, Lizzie, Ian, and Kevin are left caring for their ailing mother and culling through some potentially disastrous family secrets to find out the truth.


I want to start off this review by expressing my solidarity for all those who’ve had their works published by an independent/a smaller publishing house.

I had my memoir, Relentless: From National Champion to Physically Disabled Activist, published through E.L. Marks, an imprint of WiDo Publishing, this past summer, and I’m fully aware of how tough it is to feel supported as the author. You’re often doing your own marketing, promotion, requests for reviews and interviews, etc., and that alone can be exhausting. You’re also not receiving the same level of support services surrounding the editing and type-setting of your manuscript you’d expect to receive from a larger/more established company.

I, personally, had to closely scrutinize the proofs of my manuscripts for typographical, grammatical, and punctuation errors made by the copy editors and/or type-setter, and it took a lot of effort on my behalf to make sure my manuscript was in the best shape possible before it went to print.

With all that said, I am so disappointed to have to take “points” away from this novel’s rating, simply because of its poor editing/type-setting. Had the novel been properly edited and reviewed before going to print, I would’ve happily given it a five out of five.

Right from the beginning, I completely fell in love with the characters Maggie and Sam and the depiction of their long marriage together. Ms. McNaughton did a fantastic job detailing the intricacies of a big family held together by a loving, devoted couple, and the fallout involved when one of them passes away. From the first chapter, I was envisioning my great-grandparents and the wonderful memories they created for their large extended family.

As the novel continues, you feel weight of the family’s grief, not just for the passing of the family patriarch, but also for their matriarch’s mental disintegration as she falls deeper into Alzheimer’s.

Parents aging and becoming more infirm is a tough thing for any child to witness. With larger families, you’re often also dealing with in-fighting amongst the siblings as to what’s “best” for their parent(s), where the parent(s) should live, who should be taking care of them, whether professional services are needed, etc.

When one or more parent is also struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s infinitely more difficult to try and care for them. It’s draining to constantly correct their thoughts and redirect them to their current surroundings and place in time, especially if they’re seemingly fixated on reliving a particular time in their life.

And sadly, not only are you trying to deal with their confusion and irritation and noncompliance, you’re quite often deprived of the opportunity to properly say goodbye to them before they pass. In fact, your loved one might not even know who you are or how you know each other.

In You Don’t Know What I Have Done, Maggie and Sam’s children, Ian, Lizzie, and Kevin, are mere weeks into grieving the passing of their father when they discover their mother has been coping with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for quite some time, and had chosen to keep the diagnosis a secret from everyone except her husband.

As Lizzie, her brothers, and their spouses pull together to make sure Maggie is looked after, they begin hearing their mother relay stories about her childhood in Ireland and young adulthood in London that don’t quite add up. A sister they’ve never heard about, a new version of the story of how Maggie and Sam first met, and a possible murder? Is it the Alzheimer’s talking, some distorted mixture of her memories and maybe a movie she’d seen or a book she’d read? Or has the Alzheimer’s effectively torn down Maggie’s walls and left the truth exposed, accessible to anyone willing to listen?

Is it a betrayal to learn, right before their passing, just how little you really knew about your parents’ lives? Or is it almost a blessing that their illness is at least exposing family secrets you otherwise never would’ve learned?

It’s a beautifully tragic story to read, and if it weren’t for the glaring, constant grammatical, punctuation, and structural errors throughout the manuscript, it’d be a smooth and easy read.

Unfortunately, the multitude of mistakes took me out of the story continuously.

Sentences are unfinished, there are missing pronouns, articles, and verbs throughout, there’s missing punctuation, a lot of internal dialogue left unitalicized, a consistent lack of end quotations, and a ridiculous number of grammatical errors, including (but certainly not limited to) the following:

The word, as written in the textThe word, as intended

Perhaps most glaringly, there are two Chapter 23s. The order of the preceding and proceeding chapters are as follows: Chapter 21, Chapter 23, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, Chapter 24.

Again, I say this with the utmost respect and understanding for the author, but really? No one looked at the proof and realized Chapter 23 was included twice?

It almost pains me to say this, but the quality of the story and the characters is in such stark contrast with the piss poor editing of this novel. Truly unfortunate.

My Rating:

If the author were to fix these errors and polish up the writing a bit, I’d gladly give a second edition of You Don’t Know What I Have Done a fully favorable rating. Until then, I’ll give this a 4/5. I nearly gave it a 3/5, but it’s a really lovely, heartrending story. If you can overlook the mistakes and skip over the first Chapter 23, I’d highly recommend giving it a read. It’s currently available on Amazon.

And I hope Sheila McNaughton continues writing, perhaps going with a different editor for her next project.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Ms. McNaughton’s novel, You Don’t Know What I Have Done, via Story Circle Network, in exchange for my fair and honest review of the book.


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