Desert Isle Keeper
Before She Was Found
Before She Was Found, the latest offering from author Heather Gudenkauf, is the story of one innocent evening gone wrong, and it’s a book that kept me reading late into the night.
Twelve-year-old Cora is excited to be having a sleepover. For the past couple of years, she’s struggled to fit in with the girls her age. Some of her classmates have bullied her pretty mercilessly, and nothing Cora has tried has put a stop to it. But this year, things feel different. Jordyn, the most ruthless of the bullies, has started making friendly overtures toward Cora, and Cora is definitely ready to forgive and forget. Plus, a new girl named Violet has recently moved to town, and she seems to want to be friends with Cora.
When Violet and Jordyn arrive at Cora’s house for the sleepover they’ve been planning for weeks, they’re expecting to have a laid back evening filled with scary movies, plenty of gossip, and maybe even a session or two with the Ouija board, but when of the girls suggest they sneak out to a nearby railroad yard, things go terribly wrong. Suddenly, everyone connected with the girls and their families has questions to ask, and the answers are few and far between.
You see, something very bad happened near the railroad tracks that night, something that leaves Cora alone and near death on the tracks with Jordyn and Violet nowhere to be found. The police are doing everything they can to learn the truth about what happened; it’s obvious somebody hurt Cora, but who was it, and were Jordyn and Violet fellow victims, or could they have been involved in the terrible act?
This is one of those books where the reader has no idea who to trust. The story is told from a various points of view, but it’s clear that most of the narrators have something to hide. Even as I read the different accounts of the days leading up to the fateful sleepover, it was clear that no one was telling the truth, and I knew I couldn’t take anything at face value. Some readers might find this style of storytelling a bit frustrating, but I was completely captivated from start to finish. I love a good puzzle, and Ms. Gudenkauf provided me with one of the best I’ve come across in quite some time.
It’s sometimes difficult to keep large casts of characters straight in your head, especially when each of them is relaying a slightly different version of events. Fortunately, Ms. Gudenkauf has managed to make each of the people in this story unique and three-dimensional, and I never found myself needing to refresh my memory about how this or that person factored into the story. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine this particular tale being told any other way. Every character feels necessary and relevant.
There’s a darkness to this tale that may prove off-putting to some potential readers. Ms. Gudenkauf doesn’t shy away from the cruelty one person can visit upon another, and although I never felt her descriptions of violence were overly graphic, I know everyone’s tolerance of these things is a little different. I can’t give you too many clues for fear of spoiling things, but if you’re easily disturbed by dark and gritty mysteries, you might want to give this one a pass.
I was literally in awe of the twists the author incorporated into this novel. Although I might get some of the details wrong, I’m usually fairly good at figuring out the overall direction a story is going to take and it’s rare for a thread of intrigue to mislead me as completely as this one did. The way things wrapped up shocked me in the very best way.
I could go on and on about the greatness of Before She Was Found, but I’d much rather let you discover it for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re already a fan of Ms. Gudenkauf’s work or if you’re reading her for the first time, this book is sure to keep you glued to its pages. It’s everything I love in a novel of psychological suspense and then some, and it’s literally one of the best things I’ve read so far this year.