Prather’s Pick: A novel that isn’t easily forgotten
I can best describe this week’s novel for adults as “haunting” because it explores some of the issues that are relevant in today’s world, primarily the inappropriate use of social media. “Before She Was Found” was written by Heather Gudenkauf. It’s a new novel, published by Park Row Books.
The novel is a mystery thriller. The mystery remains unsolved until the very last pages of the book, a surprise twist, indeed. The novel’s plot was skillfully crafted by the author; it’s “complicated.”
The story takes place in the fictional town of Pitch, Iowa. The plot revolves around three twelve-year-old girls: Cora Landry, Jordyn Petit, and Violet Crow. Interestingly, the girls live in homes with different parenting styles.
Cora lives with her two parents and a sister, but Violet and her brother are being raised by a single mom. Jordyn’s grandfather is caring for her by himself right now as his wife is convalescing in a skilled-care facility.
In “A Conversation with the Author” at the end of the book, Gudenkauf explains that the inspiration for the novel came from a news headline. Two girls were obsessed with Slender Man, a character who originated online.
Joseph Wither is a similar character in this week’s novel, except that he apparently lived in Pitch when he was young and, as the legend goes, burned down his parents’ home and ran away. Girls started showing up dead on the railroad tracks, and everyone believed that Wither was responsible.
At school, in Mr. Dover’s class, Cora, Violet, and Jordyn choose Wither as the subject for a school project about a local legend. They do research and make a movie about him for their presentation. Things get a little out of hand, however, when Cora and Violet come to believe that Wither is alive. Cora, in particular, becomes obsessed with him. She believes she is conversing with him via DarkestDoor.Com. The character claiming to be Wither even gets her to go to the abandoned rail yard where he leaves her a little gift.
Jordyn and two boys, Gabe and Clint, decide to play a trick on Cora so one night when Violet and Jordyn are at Cora’s house for a sleepover, they decide to go to the abandoned rail yard. Later, the police find Cora sitting on the track. She’s covered with blood, having been stabbed several times, and her face is so badly hurt that she needs reconstructive surgery. Violet has some bumps and bruises and is in shock. Jordyn and the boys are not there.
The police department and Dr. Madeline Gideon, a psychiatrist, get involved in the case. The chapters in the novel are narrated by the adults so each one is from a different point of view. The reader finds out more about the events from text messages, direct messages from DarkestDoor.com, Cora’s journal, and interviews with the police.
The author wrote that she wanted to” explore how misused social media, lack of mental health services, and family dynamics can impact our actions and decisions.” She did just that, while writing an entertaining novel. I could hardly put the novel down.
This haunting novel is a must-read.
“Before She Was Found” costs $16.99 in paperback. It can also be found in the new book display at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.