1/17/23; 352 pages
What Happens Next by Christina Suzann Nelson is a very highly recommended mystery
Faith Byrne is a popular podcaster of "What Happens Next" where she tells stories of people overcoming tragedy and going on to embracing hope and healing. With her ex-husband taking their girls to Hawaii for the summer, she makes the decision to accept the request of a former friend's older sister, Brooke, who sent her a distressing letter. Apparently her childhood friend, Heather, disappeared after the summer in 1987 when they were best friends. Faith, who wrote many letters to her, thought Heather was ignoring her. No one told her about Heather's disappearance the day Faith left. Now, with her girls gone for the summer, Faith has decided to return to Deep Valley, Oregon, and look into the cold case of Heather's disappearance.
The narrative is told through chapters from three different points-of-view: Faith, Heather, from that summer in 1987, and Dora, Heather's mother who is still hoping her daughter will return home. The multiple narratives work well in this novel, with Heather covering the events from the summer of 1987 she spent with Faith, and the chapters with Faith and Dora covering the present day. Nelson takes the novel deeper than the surface mystery, looking into grief regarding Dora's denial of Heather's almost certain demise, but also the failure of Faith's marriage and her unhappy childhood.
Characters are all portrayed as realistic individuals and are well-developed. Heather's narrative does an excellent job capturing her happy family life, routine, and her mother Dora, as well as her friendship with Faith during that time, before they both entered 5th grade. Dora's present day chapters do sharply contrast with the Dora/Mom Heather talks about from 1987.
After a slow start, the novel begins to take off and the interest will too. The subtle messages in What Happens Next are well integrated into the story, making it a perfect choice for those who enjoy and appreciated Christian novels (no language warning needed, etc.). Any discussion of faith is uplifting and positive, allowing for failings of individuals but acknowledging grace. It could also be appreciated as a novel for teens. After the cold case is beginning to be looked into and solved, the novel focuses on solving the mystery, but it never loses sight of the humanity, struggling, and suffering of the characters involved.
Admittedly, I read a lot of mysteries and had a good idea whodunit or
at least who was involved early on, but that didn't diminish may
enjoyment of What Happens Next. Part of the enjoyment was found
in the exceptional character development and depth. I cared about what
happened to these people and wished then all healing.