Here in the Northern Midwest the weather is warming up, the sun has finally come out from the clouds it’s been hiding behind, flowers are blooming and it seems as though summer may actually be just around the corner. I had my doubts there for a while. And of course, thoughts of summer immediately turn my mind to finding some good vacation reads. Missing by Kelley Armstrong is one I would definitely recommend throwing into the beach bag.
In a shack in a forest in Kentucky, Winter Crane dreams her dreams and works hard to overcome her hardscrabble existence. In her refuge, she can avoid the father who beats her in the mobile home they share. Here, she can hunt for game when she can’t afford food. Most importantly, in this quiet spot she can study and learn; a good scholarship is her best bet for getting out of this town. And that’s what everyone wants – her sister, her best friend, and the other kids she goes to school with. They all leave shortly after graduation and few come back, even for visits. Many don’t even call or write.
Then she finds the shoe. A single Air Jordan so expensive no one in her impoverished community could possibly afford it. When the barking starts she knows that whoever owns that sneaker is in a whole lot of trouble, for the feral dogs that scavenge these woods are far more lethal than a pack of wolves.
She finds him in a tree: too low to the ground to evade the dogs forever and passed out and in imminent danger of falling. Staying downwind of the pack, she’s able to climb up and stabilize him and by waiting the beasts out she gets both of them away from the sticky situation. Once safe, she builds a stretcher and takes him back to the cabin. Some painkillers and a bit of rest get him back on his feet. However, Winter experiences plenty of anxiety as she moves him from the shack to the somewhat safer location of the family mobile home. Throughout their walk it is clear that whatever – or whoever – caused the handsome young man to be in the tree is stalking them back into town. Winter is relieved when he disappears from her father’s trailer in the morning, leaving a note saying he’ll deal with ‘the issue’, whatever it may be, and a wad of cash in lieu of thanks. She thinks that’s the end of it but of course, it’s only the beginning.
In the short time they had been together, the boy had mentioned that he knew Winter’s best friend, a young woman who left town to study fashion design in a city many miles away. When Winter tries to contact the girl, she’s AWOL. Mysterious boy with weird injuries in the woods and a missing pal has her questioning what she thought was truth: What if nobody left at all? What if they’re all missing?
As Winter begins to look into the actual fate of recent high school graduates, she gets some surprises along the way: A drunk driver who has hidden a horrific crime for years. The reason behind her father’s rage. And Jude Bishop, the handsome, enigmatic brother of the boy in the woods. Together they will uncover old secrets and make some new and deadly enemies.
Well drawn characters, an intriguing mystery and solid pacing had me happily turning the pages the whole time I was reading this novel. Ms. Armstrong is an experienced wordsmith and one whom I think writes a YA novel that is easily as interesting to adults as it is to teens. She avoids trying to have her characters be trendy or hip and relies instead on them being likable and somewhat relatable. Perhaps you aren’t as smart as Winter or talented as Jude but they come across as people you could meet in your everyday life nevertheless.
I like the way the suspense is handled as well; creepy but not completely terrifying, and with no effort to get into the villain’s head. Too many books get bogged down by giving us evil’s side of the story. In this case, we aren’t meant to understand their point of view, just condemn what they’ve done and move on.
That said, few books are perfect and in this case the flaw I couldn’t overlook was the strain on my suspension of disbelief. I accepted a teenage girl who could hunt, trap, outwit feral dogs and still be on target for med-school. I could believe in a teen boy who was an expert in hand to hand combat and on track to be a great concert pianist. But as the book progressed and the situation became more desperate while they became more awesome, I began to roll my eyes a bit. However, the story is strong enough, the characters endearing enough that it in no way ruins the book; just removes it from DIK territory.
Missing is probably as good a mystery summer beach read as you’re going to find. Not so engrossing that you can’t put it down when it’s time to do something different but completely engaging once you pick it back up. The sensuality level means that everyone on the trip can read it, from your pre-teen to your grandma. It won’t keep you up all night in terror but it will have you reading into the wee hours of the morning. Seriously, this is the book I would throw in my luggage and share with the family as we lounge by the water.