Desert Isle Keeper
The Summer We Lost Her
The Summer We Lost Her is the latest novel from author Tish Cohen. Part mystery and part exploration of a family in crisis, it’s a book that’s sure to evoke big feelings in its readers.
The past several years have been a whirlwind for Matt and Elise Sorenson. Matt is a lawyer, on the verge of making partner at a prestigious law firm, and Elise is a competitive dressage rider with dreams of one day representing the United States in the Olympic Games. As a result of her hectic training schedule, Elise spends months at a time away from home, leaving Matt with most of the day-to-day responsibilities of caring for their eight-year-old daughter Gracie who has cerebral palsy as a result of a riding accident late in Elise’s pregnancy. Most of the time, Matt doesn’t mind doing the bulk of the parenting, but there are times when he wishes his wife was more of a regular part of Gracie’s life.
Now though, the three of them are spending two weeks in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, readying the lake front cabin that has been in Matt’s family for years to be put on the market. Under normal circumstances, Matt would never sell this piece of his family history, but Gracie’s medical care and Elise’s training expenses have put a definite strain on the family budget, making it necessary to put the cabin up for sale. As he and Elise work to sort through the family possessions stored at the cabin, they are forced to come to terms with the deep fissures that have slowly begun appearing in their relationship.
Then, on a sunny summer morning while waiting for the bus to take her to a local day camp, Gracie goes missing, plunging Matt and Elise into a web of fear and resentment beyond their deepest imaginings. Forced to face the distinct possibility of never seeing their daughter again, the couple grapples with emotions they haven’t been able to face until this terrible moment in time, calling into question everything they thought they knew about themselves and each other.
You might think this is just one more in a long line of books about missing children, but The Summer We Lost Her is so much more than that. A lot of attention is paid to Gracie’s disappearance, but not necessarily in the ways one might expect. For example, we’re given very little insight into the investigation itself. Instead, Ms. Cohen focuses on the effect of losing a beloved child on a couple who once thought they were living their dream. We’re given a bird’s-eye-view of their crumbling marriage, their uncertainties about their careers, and the extreme self-loathing each of them subjects themselves to. How could they have failed to protect the one person they love most in the world? Neither is able to understand how this tragedy could have befallen them, and so they go through the following days in a fog of deep fear and confusion.
I loved the way the author was able to insert herself directly into the hearts and minds of her characters. Both Elise and Matt are complicated people who have made their fair share of mistakes, and Ms. Cohen did a fantastic job making me fall in love with them both in spite of the things they did wrong. There were facets to their personalities I found difficult to accept, but those added to their humanity, making them feel like real people rather than cardboard cut-outs, and that counts for a lot.
If you’re looking for a novel that’s twisty and suspenseful, this won’t be the book for you, as it’s more of an introspective story than a fast-paced mystery, relying on the growth of the characters to move the plot forward. I loved it, but I know this kind of novel won’t appeal to all readers since the mystery does take a backseat to the relationship between Matt and Elise. Still, if you enjoy books with the power to make you think about what’s really important in life, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of The Summer We Lost Her, a novel that’s sure to remain with you long after the final page has been turned.