Norma Fox Mazer’s powerful writing left me so uneasy in her latest book The Missing Girl that I have taken a month to write. Wow! What a psych thriller! The alternating points of view of the many characters involved keep you off-balance as the predator becomes more and more disturbed. If you are a parent and read this, you’ll never feel at ease when your children are out of sight again.
Intended for seventh graders and up I was pleased with how flowing and powerful the writing was. Chapters of a seemingly ordinary man who watches five sisters go about their life while he harbors the desire to have one as his "guest" are spaced between 3 narratives told in different voices. Beauty’s chapters are more distant as she plans to leave the problems of her family when she turns 18 soon. Her voice is in the third person.
Here’s a tidbit of one of Autumn’s chapters written in second-person narrative:
The man unties your wrists. You shake your hands to get the blood going again, and it feels so good to have the rope off that you blurt, "Thank you."
"You’re a good girl," he says, and he tells you that you’re a polite girl and he likes polite girls. He says it like he’s your father or something. Only Poppy never hit you. Poppy never, ever, in his life did anything mean to you.
Norma Fox Mazer has done such a superb job of telling Autumn’s story that you become Autumn and experience far more in your head & imagination than is detailed in this book. Perhaps that is why I put off writing for so long. I was so deeply involved in the fate of Autumn and her family that I had to recover from my near-kidnapping experience (since I sunk myself so deeply into the story and couldn’t get out).
Autumn’s mentally challenged sister Fancy’s chapters are written in first-person narrative lending a veil of innocence to the entire story. If you simply read one of her chapters, you’d mistakenly think this was for younger students. It is misleading to think younger readers who are capable of enunciating and comprehending this story can deal with the intensity of emotion provoked.
Every character in this story is impacted by the fateful decisions made. Dreams and plans change. Relationships change. How you view strangers changes because The Missing Girl makes you more aware of everything and everyone around you.
Towards the end of this book Autumn deals with the way others view her while she is insisting she hasn’t changed. Inside she knows she isn’t the same person. Through the work of her counselor during lunch periods and journaling, Autumn learns new coping skills. She practices reminding herself of what she did and how she saved herself. There is a message of hope and recommitment to families that stays with you in the end. Thank Goodness! I was scared to turn the pages at several points because of what "could have" happened.
My school counselor Cheryl Moss Tyler will be reading this next so she can offer her tips for incorporating this book with the program "Safe At Last." Stay tuned.
I remember hearing Tom Perrotta speak at ALA Annual as part of an author panel a couple years ago. He talked about his book Little Children that people flippantly refer to as the predator book. Little Children was actually a very incisive look at suburban adults with the focus on their relationships with each other and sexually. I remembered Tom speaking compassionately about trying to produce compassion for the person trapped in the predator body. So I read the book. It was understandably a best-seller for adults. Then I moved on.
I can’t quite move on from The Missing Girl. The predator has taken some of Autumn’s and my innocence and I’m afraid it will remain missing forever.