When She Was Gone
By Gwendolen Gross
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: March 19, 2013
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Read during the Clean Sweep ARC Challenge
Seventeen-year-old Linsey Hart disappears the day before she’s due to leave for college. As her neighbors piece together what they saw and what they think they know about the missing girl, their long-held secrets, prejudices, and entanglements become rudely evident.
There’s Linsey’s mother, Abigail, whose door-to-door searching makes her social outcast status painfully obvious; stay-at-home mom Reeva, whose primary concern is covering up the affair she’s been having with the Starbucks barista; Mr. Leonard, a reclusive retired piano teacher—and the last person to see Linsey alive; George, an eleven year-old gifted loner who is determined to find out what happened to Linsey; and Timmy, Linsey’s ex-boyfriend, who is left grieving as he embarks on his own college career.
A keenly observed portrait of a small town under duress, When She Was Gone is a searing portrayal of the bonds that hold a community together—and the secrets and lies that threaten to rip it apart.
In another life, I used to gorge myself on big Agatha Christie-style mysteries and big whodunits that unraveled with people’s closely held secrets. There’s always been something fascinating about examining each of the players, digging at their secrets and trying to put them all together into the bigger puzzle of the community to see how the big event could have happened.
I admit that I went into this book expecting something, and I didn’t get it. The story starts with one of Linsey’s neighbors, a former school music teacher. While he’s playing his piano in the very early morning, he sees her slip away from home, leaving a potential clue to her whereabouts. Her mother later becomes aware that Linsey hasn’t shown up at work that day, and it makes her uneasy but doesn’t ring immediate “emergency” bells because of the timing. Linsey’s getting ready to head off to Cornell University and she’s been upset over a breakup with her boyfriend. It’s possible that she’s taken a mental health day off. By the time night falls and there’s still no sight or sound of Linsey, her mom calls the police and reports her missing. What follows are looks into the lives of the neighbors of Linsey’s family, including tiny interactions with the teen or things they may have heard that would help explain her disappearance.
Ms. Gross can write beautifully and with purpose, and it’s evidenced most in the story of Geo, the quiet young boy with the camera who sees everything but with an innocent, non-judgmental eye. He’s a sweet child who freely embraces some unconventional hobbies that get him bullied by one of Linsey’s brothers and being in his chapters felt like taking my own mental health holiday. I thought Gross may have played his “otherness” (there were several things about Geo that made him different) too much sometimes, but his sections were still clearly the best.
Most of the rest of the story felt slow, weighed down by the repetitive chapters about people I didn’t particularly like who never changed or learned anything. There was very little effort to actually unravel the mystery of where Linsey was, which I’d been hoping would be at least a part of the story. Instead, there was mostly only her mother’s increasing hysteria and a little bit of self-flagellation by her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend.
This may appeal to readers who like the kind of fiction that simply exposes a situation and leaves it there for them to interpret. Gross has solid writing skills, even though I thought it was a little too dense and flowery for this particular story she was telling at this particular pace. I was frustrated because the plot never seemed to go anywhere, even though there was an answer, of sorts. It was unsatisfying, which I expected by the time I reached it, since I could see from the tone of the book what I had gotten myself into.
My Rating: C