Nashville author J.T. Ellison has written her most personal and deeply moving novel with It’s One of Us but, like the master storyteller she is, still manages to weave a heart-pounding mystery thriller for her legion of readers.
Ellison immediately evokes sympathy for her main character, home designer Olivia Bender, who loses yet another pregnancy to miscarriage as the novel opens: “Nearly four million women a year — a year! — manage to give birth. But not her.”
“Honestly, she wanted to murder them all, the sycophantic breeders who took their ability to procreate for granted,” Ellison writes, channeling Olivia’s despair. “They had no idea what she was going through. How she was tearing apart inside, month after month.”
But before Olivia is even able to inform her husband, Park, of the tragic news, police come calling with another shock altogether: Park’s DNA has been found on the body of a missing woman. It’s not his, as it turns out, but it does belong to a son he didn’t know he had.
While Olivia maintains she is not depressed over her loss and knows they will try again, the revelation that Park has sired a child with another woman is especially difficult to process.
Park, a former English professor turned professional ghostwriter for a renowned thriller author, donated his sperm to a clinic while in his 20s and thought nothing more of the matter. How could he know that not only did he have a son, but at least 28 other children through the clinic? What’s more, 19 of his offspring are sons, any one of whom could be the killer.
This is all too much for Olivia. “It hurts her to yell at him,” Ellison writes. “She’s never been a fan of fighting like this. But she feels like she’s driven her car into a brick wall. Totaled. She is totaled inside, and she can’t pretend things are okay any longer.”
But while Park may seem like the obvious bad guy here, Ellison creates sympathy for him via chapters told through his point of view.
“He’s been suffused with excitement and hasn’t wanted to admit it. There’s nothing he’s ever wanted more than a big, boisterous family,” to maybe walk a daughter down the aisle one day, Ellison writes. Like his wife, Park is bewildered by what’s happening: “A wail builds inside him, choked off because it wouldn’t be manly to fall apart. There’s too much at stake. He has to hold it together. For himself. For Olivia.”
And if that’s not enough, other chapters follow the course of events as told through Park’s daughter, who has managed to track down many of Park’s children, her siblings, on a special Discord server.
A second missing woman soon compounds the mystery even further, raising questions about Park’s past and stretching the limits of trust between this frayed couple.
A USA Today bestselling author of more than 25 books, Ellison co-hosts the popular Emmy-winning TV show A Word on Words with fellow author and investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.
Her own struggle with infertility lends a personal credence and authenticity to the story of It’s One of Us. “These pages belong to the characters within; these are their stories,” Ellison writes in an author’s note. “And yet, much of what you’ve just read has its roots in reality. My reality.”
“I saw Olivia and knew her stories as if we’d been friends for years,” she writes.
Anyone who reads this novel, particularly women who have experienced the struggle of infertility, will likely feel the same by the last page.
G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and aspiring screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.
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