For a while on this website, I’ve been reviewing suspense books, specifically ones with the “missing person” trope. Even though those novels were good, I’m kind of getting bored, especially if I know what the outcome is going to be a third of the way in. However, I recently read Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell – another book that falls under that category, but its characters and twists make it worthwhile.
In Then She Was Gone, a 15-year-old girl named Ellie Mack – the apple of her family’s eye – goes missing. Ten years later, her recently divorced mother Laurel is trying to put her life back together when she meets Floyd Dunn in a café. Soon after, they start dating, and she meets his daughters. One of whom is his youngest Poppy, who looks a lot like Ellie. Unanswered questions that Laurel had tried to bury rise up as well as new ones about Floyd and Poppy. In other words, the book is like The Child by Fiona Barton if it had mainly focused on how Angela and her family dealt with the disappearance and how she fell apart because of it.
The characters were pretty realistic, especially Laurel and Noelle Donnelly. Readers get to see how the family dynamic fell apart after Ellie vanished. Jewell portrays Laurel sympathetically, yet at the same time, the author acknowledges that she has some flaws like favoring Ellie over her other daughter Hanna during the former’s lifetime. This leads to a strained relationship with the latter. Meanwhile, Noelle Donnelly – Ellie’s former math tutor – is seen as mentally unstable, yet Jewell gives her a backstory with her only sister dying at a young age. As a result, her family misses her sister more than they acknowledge Noelle’s own existence. While readers would disagree with Noelle’s actions during the course of the novel, they can at least understand where she’s coming from. It also provides an outcome for Hanna if Laurel kept wallowing in her own misery because of the loss of Ellie.
Much like The Child, I thought I had the outcome of Then She Was Gone figured out a third way through. However, two-thirds in, the book fulfilled and defied my expectations. I was completely shocked! It was what I expected and much worse. I’m not going to spoil it. All I will say is that twists like that would likely make Lisa Gardner proud.
I understand that some readers have complaints about the logistics of the investigation and how Noelle did what she did, yet one of my complaints is that it started off pretty slow with its exposition. Once Laurel meets Floyd in the café, the pacing picks up pretty quickly. The other is the structure itself. It’s divided into six parts with no real reason for doing so. Each of the sections contain different narrators and jump between timelines. I was so confused that I wished that Jewell would have eliminated those six parts altogether.
I enjoyed the audiobook spoken by English actress, comedian, and narrator Helen Duff. Duff has narrated several of Jewell’s novels, and I can see why. She creates pretty distinct characters vocally like having Laurel with an older Cate Blanchett type of voice, Poppy with a spunky and clever tone, Noelle with a thick loner Irish dialect, Hannah with a very moody and disinterested attitude, and Floyd with a slightly eerie and sexy anglicized American accent. I had no trouble figuring out who was talking and feeling for them.
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a really good “missing person” book. It takes what we expect from it and adds so much more even to a regular reader’s disbelief. The novel also contains relatable characters and ones that people can express empathy towards even if they don’t agree with their actions. This book is available in print, as an audiobook, and on Hoopla and Overdrive. It’s definitely for the Gone Girl crowd as well as for those who love suspense and want a little something more in their “missing person” stories.
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