The Missing Season
Mumbler, Mumbler, in your bed,
Mumbler, Mumbler, take your head,
Eat your nose,
Gobble your toes,
And bury you where the milkweed grows.
This nursery rhyme, chanted by the kids who make up the under-eighteen set in Pender, Maine, tells us of the superstitious fear they harbor that something is terribly wrong in their town – that there really has been a monster named The Mumbler out there murdering kids every single October for the last twenty years.
Cynical Clara Morrison, a brand-new transplant to Pender’s lower-income Birchwood Terraces neighborhood, doesn’t believe the creature’s hype. All of her new friends have subscribed to different belief systems about the Mumbler. Sarcastic Bree, artistic Moon and beautiful Sage, who invited a bullied Clara into their circle, are skeptics like her, whereas Trace, Sage’s mohawk-sporting boyfriend and the group’s de facto leader, is a true believer in the tale. Clara’s crush, the daring and elusive Kincaid, breezes in and out of the group’s lives, a blur on wheels at the skate park who chooses to reveal little of himself to them, but taking the time to trade conspiracy theories about the Mumbler with Clara.
As the teens ramble around town, they sip booze, cut class, start a prank war at school, make out in the woods and discuss the Mumbler in whispers and howls. Clara and Kincaid’s research mires them deeper into the myth and pulls them closer together, and the group’s cycle of rebellion intensifies the closer Halloween gets. When a classmate is presumed to have run away after a family argument, Clara finds the girl’s jacket floating in the marshes – and knows she must act to stop the Mumbler’s evil reign for once and for all.
The Missing Season is a gorgeously told mystery that does not skimp on the thrills and tension while giving us a grounded, realistic portrait of life in a lower-income neighborhood.
French’s writing lands at the perfect divide between Steven King’s Loser’s Club and Kevin Williamson’s Scream series; Clara’s clique is part rebellious mall goths, part booze loving delinquents. But they have hearts, nerve, and verve; they come from different backgrounds and have different reasons for ditching school when they should be studying. Readers will recognize themselves in this book – in the angst of kids with distant moms or loving fathers (or vice/versa. Or both.).
I loved Clara’s dry sarcasm and her poke-and-prod relationship with Kincaid. Her family life is well-portrayed, too; I liked her relationship with her snarky mom and her much more easygoing dad.
The supporting characters also pop – mainly Bree and Kincaid, though Sage and Trace get some interesting moments. I loved Bree’s hard, self-protected edge, and French give us a very well-written subplot about Bree and her little sister’s conflict over their mother’s unreliability and their father’s violence.
French also captures life in the lower-middle class neighborhoods of Pender perfectly; parents that work overtime to put dinner on the table, who care but have to leave their kids to their own devices – or sometimes care too much about themselves to bother calling home. I could taste the bite of a fall breeze on the tip of my tongue, hear old hinges creak as they pivoted, and smell woodsmoke curling up from the pages.
Which brings me to the book’s central mystery, which I loved and found gripping and intense – but after building my suspense with care and to the utmost, its denouement proved something of a let-down; I wanted something truly shocking and the book didn’t quite get there. I did, however, enjoy watching Clara shine the way she did in that final conflict, and how the author left the door open for more books set in this town.
But The Missing Season is a great read in spite of that ending. Character development, romance, suspense and family drama combine to make an intense, smile-provoking, nerve-shattering piece of work with relatable characters (and realistic teenagers!) and a cute romance.
Note: this book contains depictions of self-harm, underage alcohol consumption, fade-to-black underage sexual activity, and parental abuse.
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