65 pages 2 hours read

Suzanne Redfearn

In an Instant

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


Suzanne Redfearn’s international best-selling novel In an Instant (2020) tells the story of Finn Miller’s death in a horrific car accident. Using a unique first-person omniscient perspective, Redfearn depicts each character’s choices during and after the accident and raises questions about morality and survival, betrayal and forgiveness, and choice and consequence. In an Instant has won several awards, including Best New Fiction Book for 2020 from Best Book Awards. It was Amazon Chart’s bestseller in Most Sold and Most Read and a Top 20 Finalist for Best Fiction at the Goodreads 2020 Choice Awards.

This guide refers to the 2020 paperback edition published by Lake Union Publishing.

Content Warning: This guide includes references to and discussion of suicide and drug abuse and addiction as a response to emotional and physical trauma.

Plot Summary

Finn Miller describes her family’s preparations for a ski trip in the California mountains. The Millers, who live in Laguna Beach, California, are experiencing extensive conflict within their family for various reasons. Finn’s dad, Jack, hopes this trip will help heal some of the family’s conflict, though Finn isn’t convinced. Traveling with the Millers are Finn’s best friend, Mo, and the Gold family. Bob and Karen Gold are like an uncle and aunt to Finn, though their daughter, Natalie, likes to compete with Finn and Mo.

The group piles into Jack’s old camper and sets off on the three-hour drive to Big Bear. By the time they reach the cabin, snow has begun to fall. The family unloads and piles back into the camper to go to dinner. The snow is falling much harder, affecting Jack’s ability to see. He comes upon a stranded teenager named Kyle and offers him a ride. As they continue driving, a deer appears on the road. Jack slams the brake, causing the camper to go over a steep mountainside. Finn dies as the camper tumbles to the bottom of the ridge, and Jack breaks his femur. The other passengers experience varying degrees of injuries, though none are serious. Although dead, Finn remains in the living world, able to observe the other characters’ actions and behavior.

Despite the family’s grief over Finn’s death, everyone realizes they must work together to survive until rescuers arrive. Chloe, Finn’s sister, and Chloe’s boyfriend, Vance, want to go for help. Ann and Jack feel the teens should wait until morning, but Chloe defies her parents and goes with Vance. After the pair leaves, Mo suggests they fill in the windshield with snow to prevent the wind and cold from getting inside the camper. Ann and Kyle also remove Finn’s body and lay it in the snow. Ann takes her daughter’s clothing and boots and gives them to Mo. Ann’s choice upsets Karen; she feels her daughter, Natalie, deserves more extra clothing than Mo.

In the wilderness, Chloe and Vance walk for hours. Chloe has a concussion and can’t keep up with Vance, forcing him to abandon her. Chloe moves under a tree to wait. Finn, now dead, periodically sits with her sister; Chloe has some awareness of her dead sister’s presence. When dawn arrives, Kyle helps everyone climb out of the trailer to go to the bathroom. Once Ann and Mo are outside, Ann says she’s going for help and asks Mo to take care of Jack and her son, Oz. Ann and Kyle retrace where the camper fell from the road. They work well together, making it farther than they would on their own. Kyle ties a scarf to his and Ann’s wrists to help them stay together. At one point, Kyle loses his footing and falls over a ledge. Fearing that he will drag her down, Ann lets go of Kyle. He only falls a few feet, but Ann feels guilty for letting him go. They get back on top of the ledge and continue hiking.

Mo uses a book and lighter to start a small fire. She then melts snow in a broken sunglasses case and starts giving everyone a turn to drink. Oz demands more water. When Karen reaches for the case, he hits Karen across the face and takes it. Because Oz has a mental disability, he can’t control his emotions well, but Bob and Karen see him as a danger. Acting on this concern, Bob takes Oz outside the camper and tricks the 13-year-old boy into giving Bob his gloves and looking for Ann. When Bob returns to the trailer alone, Mo knows something is wrong but doesn’t know what to do. Oz wanders into the wilderness, looking for his mom in the wrong direction. The family never sees Oz again.

Ann and Kyle reach the road and use Ann’s phone to call for help. Emergency workers arrive, including Captain Burns, who oversees the search for the other survivors. A helicopter arrives at the camper and takes Jack to a hospital. Another helicopter arrives for Mo and the Golds, taking them to a different hospital. Doctors diagnose Mo with major frostbite on her fingers and toes, but the Golds have no serious injuries or frostbite.

More snowstorms interrupt the search, causing Ann to panic. She is eventually sedated and taken to the hospital. Searchers find Chloe under the tree and take her to her parents’ hospital to treat her for severe frostbite. Rescuers also find Vance near a campground, and rescuers take him to the hospital for severe frostbite. Vance returns home soon after his rescue and refuses Chloe’s calls, causing her to sink into a deep depression.

The search continues for Oz, but they never find his body. The Millers, the Golds, and Mo return to Laguna Beach and must recover from the traumatic experience and try to move on. Ann and Jack mourn the loss of their two children differently. Ann throws away anything that reminds her of Finn and Oz and acts like they never existed. When Jack leaves the hospital, he returns home angry and resentful that Ann left Oz. The couple continues to struggle with their emotions, leaving Finn hopeless that her parents will ever resolve their differences. Chloe becomes so depressed that she contemplates suicide. Thankfully, Mo’s quick thinking provides a welcome distraction, and Chloe begins working at a local animal shelter. There, she meets a boy named Eric, and they quickly develop feelings for each other.

One day, Jack kidnaps Vance and takes him back up to the cabin. Jack keeps Vance there for a month, dragging Vance into helping him search for Oz’s body. Though they never find remains, in the process, Vance gains control of his drug addiction, which started after he returned home from the accident. Vance also begins to admire Jack’s strength, hoping to become more like this man who went through and overcame so much. Jack returns from the cabin somewhat improved, but he forces himself to look through his dead children’s belongings regularly as a way of staying immersed in his loss.

Finn silently observes her friends’ and family’s recovery, grateful for her new perspective but sad that she is missing out on so much. As she learns about her family, her maturity grows; in the end, she wants only for them to remember her without the memories making them unhappy. When Mo begins a relationship with Kyle, Finn discovers that she’s stuck in the living world until she can find peace with those she’s most strongly connected to. Finn’s tether to Chloe breaks when Chloe, now immersed in her work at the animal shelter, falls in love with Eric. Jack’s tether to his dead daughter breaks when he finally donates all of her belongings, allowing himself to let go and move on. The last person to find peace is Ann. At her eldest daughter’s wedding reception at the end of the novel, Ann dances with Kyle. This moment brings peace to both Ann and Finn, and Finn finally leaves the living world, progressing into whatever lies beyond.