Book Reviews

The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown

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“It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue; and she is never seen again. Twenty years pass, and Sadie is still living in the same quiet suburb. She’s married to a good man, has two beautiful children, and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her old neighborhood returns to town, the nightmares of that summer will begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries will finally become clear.” ~Goodreads

Woah, this book! Told in alternating chapters from 1979 (Sadie-as a 12 year-old) and 2003 (Sadie- as a wife in her 30s and mother of two). This story was haunting. It quickly hooked me and I couldn’t wait to get back to it to find out what happened in this suspenseful and thrilling mystery of a missing girl.

Karen Brown perfectly describes the routine of everyday life both as an adventurous, yet dominating child as well as a bored housewife, feeling trapped and longing for something more. I think this book would be great for book club discussions because it honestly depicts how a woman can feel overwhelmed, burdened by endless demands, frustrated, stalled in their career while trying to play off the role of perfect wife and mother in suburbia. The 1970s references (as the younger Sadie) quickly brought me back to that time with spot-on references: collecting pennies for Unicef on Halloween, the smell of Noxema on your skin, writing neighborhood plays, pixie haircuts and the leather change purse stitched together with plastic thread.

Ray Filley’s resurfacing brings back old memories for Sadie, what she experienced as a child and questions become more clear as an adult. The past and present collide and she discovers the disturbing truths about her childhood, her alcoholic mother, Ray and his sister Beth and how the choices she made will haunt her forever.

Even though there was absolutely nothing redeeming about Sadie, for some reason her behavior didn’t disturb me as much as I thought it would. Am I desensitized? No, I think her behavior as a child was a direct reflection of her upbringing: absentee father, curious/devious nature, needy and alcoholic mother. As an adult, the death of her stillborn third child threw her into some sort of postpartum depression. There were no excuses for her behavior, because what she did to her family and husband were thoughtless and hurtful, but I didn’t feel like her behaviors were out of the blue.

I didn’t necessarily connect with Sadie or any other character. Maybe that was the intent to feel detached from the people and be more of an outsider looking in. I do wish the men were developed more like her husband Craig and father, but again the focus was on Sadie and her revelations.

One part of the story left me a bit baffled (see, I need you to read it and weigh in!):

In 1974, a neighborhood girl, Laura Loomis, went missing and there were snippets from new articles sporadically mentioned throughout the book but it wasn’t explored further and I would’ve liked to have know what happened with her investigation, etc. She was a year older than Sadie and they resembled one another. The book mentioned how they could have been sisters and Sadie was often mistaken for Laura. It seemed important but then went nowhere. Was that part necessary? I couldn’t make the connection. The girl who went missing in 1979 that Sadie remembers and had involvement with was named Francie, who was two years younger. That story is the main focus of the 1979 flashbacks, not about Laura who went missing in 1974.

But the story as a whole keeps the reader on their toes. I wanted to read faster to get to what happened but it was sooooo well written that I slowly relished the descriptions and lyrical prose. Also, some readers do not like the alternating chapters when in flashback mode, but in this story it was not confusing at all. As each chapter ended, I was left wanting to stay in that time frame revealing more about Sadie. Again, Karen Brown made the transitions fluid, a true mark of a great writer.

One last mention is that this story was written around a true story from the author’s childhood. A girl went missing in 1973 and reading the news articles made Karen Brown curious about what happened:

“When I set out to create a fictional world around a missing girl, I wanted to reinvent the feeling of loss captured in the articles, and provide some sense of closure that remains…I wanted this book to be one about mothers, and mothering, about the nature of that role and its responsibilities, joys and sorrows…”

I think she succeeded. And I just found a new author to add to my reading list!

To learn more about Karen Brown you can visit her site here.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this advance, uncorrected reader’s proof. I was not required to review it nor was I compensated for a review.

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