Where She Went is the sixth novel by Kelly Simmons. The story of a missing co-ed and a desperate mother’s search for answers, it’s a chilling reminder of just how dangerous the world can be for the young and naive.
When her only daughter Emma moved across town to go to college, Maggie O’Farrell found herself turning into the kind of parent that texted three times a day and dropped off cookies on a regular basis. Emma had to gently let her know this was unacceptable and began limiting their texts to just once an evening, usually their favorite shorthand message sent right before bed, NILY (Night, I love you). But when a police officer shows up at Maggie’s Bubbles & Blowouts beauty salon, all the fears that had kept Maggie endlessly texting and just dropping by are realized: Soon after she had stopped hovering over her daughter, the girl vanished.
The former wife of an officer killed in the line of duty Maggie knows the first hours are crucial in locating a missing person. And Emma disappeared a full twenty-four hours before Maggie was aware of the problem. She races to the university, determined to find her precious girl and what she discovers is alarming. The dorm room where Emma was supposed to be living is empty. The dorm mates initially avoid the police and are sullen and uncooperative, almost hostile, when they are finally located. Emma has no boyfriend, but a mysterious boy is identified as Future Husband in the contact list of her phone. And her phone – something no teen is ever without – was left sitting on a dresser in the alarmingly empty room.
Maggie doesn’t want to dig through Emma’s life, disrespecting her daughter’s privacy and possibly destroying the fragile trust between them. But she will do anything to find her, even if it means being awakened to truths about Emma that the girl would never want Maggie to know.
AAR reviewers Maggie and Shannon read Where She Went and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Maggie: I have never read a novel by Kelly Simmons before, but I found the back blurb for this one intriguing and decided to give it a chance. What drew you to the book?
Shannon: I was also intrigued by the blurb. I’m always on the lookout for more twisty thrillers, and this looked like something I’d really love.
Maggie: This story is told in alternating narratives between Maggie and Emma. I felt that format was utilized brilliantly here, allowing an issue to come up in Maggie’s perspective and be resolved in Emma’s or vice versa. I really liked the author showing how we could look at something and see it one way but that it would resolve into something different when seen from another’s experience of it. What did you think of the multiple viewpoints?
Shannon: I normally love books that employ this style, but I found it less than effective here. The things we learned from Emma’s chapters kind of took away from the suspense of Maggie’s portions. It wasn’t all that difficult for me to figure out the twists pretty far ahead of Maggie because of the hints dropped by Emma.
Maggie I think that may have been what I actually enjoyed. The switch from suspense to pragmatic answer and back again felt more realistic to me than the endless, creepy evil of many thrillers on the market today. Another aspect I enjoyed about the story was its examination of the murky line between criminal and unethical. Much of what was happening at the university was, to me, immoral but it wasn’t illegal. It made me think a bit about what society finds prosecutable and what it finds simply distasteful. Would you agree the story examines that ambiguous boundary or did you see things differently?
Shannon: I wholeheartedly agree with you. So much of what was going on at the university fell into that gray area between things that are against the law and those that are just in opposition to most people’s moral compasses. I wasn’t a big fan of most of what the characters were up to, but that’s a far cry from something being illegal. The examination of that thin line set this book apart from a lot of the other thrillers I’ve read this year.
Maggie: I liked Maggie, who seemed bright, strong and determined, but found myself struggling with just how unsophisticated Emma was. Kids today tend to be savvy and wary, a byproduct of being part of a highly connected, highly technological culture. I was disturbed that Emma never utilized that connection to reach out for help, especially given that her father’s old friends on the police force would have been in a position to be very helpful. What did you think of our two main characters?
Shannon: Maggie’s naïveté got on my nerves from time to time. I mean, Emma was obviously keeping secrets, but Maggie didn’t want to acknowledge what was going on. Emma, on the other hand, managed to get herself into a sticky situation, and it didn’t always seem like she exercised the best judgement as she went about her business. Of course, both Emma’s half-baked style of thinking and Maggie’s reluctance to see the truth made the characters feel human, even if I didn’t always like them.
Maggie: I agree. There was a realism to the characters that made them understandable even when they weren’t likable. I don’t want to delve too deeply into the mystery but I have to admit I found several aspects of it a bit unbelievable. What was your take on that facet of the tale?
Shannon: There were definitely some far-fetched angles to the mystery. I didn’t find anything flat-out implausible, but a few things came close. I also struggled with the ambiguous nature of the ending. I don’t expect everything to be wrapped up in a tidy bow, but I would have liked a bit more of a glimpse into life after the dust settled.
Maggie: So what’s your final grade? The book has some taut plotting, and some interesting things to say about wealth and social mores, but I felt the plot could have been easily resolved if one character had just reached out to those who cared about her. It’s a B for me.
Shannon: It’s a B for me as well. The story had a lot of potential, but some aspects of the plot didn’t gel for me the way I was hoping they would. Add to that the rushed ending and slightly over-the-top nature of some of the twists, and you have something enjoyable, but not spectacular.
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