Well, it turns out J.K. Rowling is more than just a one series wonder.
I actually hovered between two and three stars for the first half to two-thirds of this book because there's a lot of set-up that's fairly slow and inconsistent. There are a million different characters here and each one has a story, so it took a while for me to warm up to everyone and remember who was who. Somewhere around the midpoint, though, it got harder and harder to put this book down, and during the last third (where it gets progressively more heart wrenching with each page) I realized I was really liking it. Any book that can elicit enough emotional response to have me bawling (at work) by the time I reach the end deserves some respect.
It's beyond me why so many people have shelved this as "mystery" though. I guess that had me expecting a typical whodunit, but besides a death occurring at the beginning (with a fairly straightforward cause), there's nothing like that in the story. This is really just a portrait of a small town and how the residents' lives intersect and affect one another. That makes it sound boring (and okay, it was for the first hundred pages or so), but it works. I think it helps to go into this one without too many expectations, cause it's a bit hard to describe and compare to other novels.
Potentially triggering for rape, domestic violence, drug (heroin) abuse, cutting/SI, and suicide. This ain't Harry Potter, folks.