Washington Square Press, 7/2/2013
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
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.
The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown alternates chapters between the past and the present. Sadie Watkins was a child in the 70’s. In 1974, a neighborhood girl, Laura Loomis, disappeared. It haunts the neighborhood even after five years have passed and influences how parents watch their daughters. Sadie, a young teen in 1979, resents the rules, but follows them grudgingly when she is forced to play with neighborhood girls. But, when Sadie and her best friend Betty play a prank on Francie, she may know more than she is willing to admit when Francie disappears.
Over 20 years later present day Sadie is married with two children and struggling after she has had a late term miscarriage of a daughter. After it becomes clear he is pursuing her, she seeks out an affair with Ray Filley someone she knew from her childhood during the time the girls were disappearing.
Sadie is most surely suffering from depression. Her depression, combined with the secrets she has kept since childhood, make a lethal cocktail that send her down a rocky road of self-destructive behavior that resembles behavior her mother was exhibiting in the 70’s.
The Longings of Wayward Girls encompasses both a mystery and a coming of age novel. As the chapters slip between past and present, you will become acquainted with Sadie as a young teen and as a struggling mother. It soon becomes clear that Sadie may be heading down the same path as her own mother. Sadie, in both eras is not a likeable character.
Brown does a great job setting the stage for this atmospheric family drama about hidden secrets, unresolved issues, and self-destruction early on, but then the novel seems to lose its focus and flounders just when the plot needs to quicken and tighten up even more. By the time the ending arrived, I had already guessed everything and was reading just to reach the conclusion and confirm my suspicions. It was odd that after all the information about the disappearance of Laura, there is no resolution.
Despite the few qualms I had with the plot and execution of the novel, the quality of the writing was never in question. The writing is excellent.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Washington Square Press via Netgalley for review purposes.