The mysterious return of a kidnapped boy is more curse than blessing in this novel—which is equal parts love story, thriller, and horror tale.
In Nashua, New Hampshire, young teen Jon Bronson is the sort of boy who loves newspapers and hamsters and takes the long way to school to avoid bullies. He also loves fellow teen and popular budding artist Chloe Sayers, though he never admits as much. Kepnes (Hidden Bodies, 2016, etc.) nails the tentative feelings that develop between kids from different middle school social strata. When Jon vanishes one morning—it’s revealed early on that his kidnapper is local substitute teacher Roger Blair—the relative speed with which the town’s interest wanes is nearly as devastating as his disappearance, a narrative trick Kepnes pulls off seamlessly. Four years later, a more muscular Jon emerges from the local mall with no memory of his captivity and a new obsession with the work of H.P. Lovecraft, particularly the novel The Dunwich Horror, which features a man named Wilbur Whateley, with whom Jon begins to identify. Soon after Jon's return, strange things begin happening to the people around him, from getting nosebleeds to fainting and even having a fatal heart attack. Jon disappears again, voluntarily this time, fearing that, like Wilbur, he’s the monster whose mere presence causes sickness and death. Kepnes follows Jon, Chloe, and Charles "Eggs" DeBenedictus, a detective from Providence, Rhode Island, over the years as they live their separate but interconnected lives: Jon in Providence under two assumed names; Chloe in New York City as an artist who shot to fame with her initial paintings of Jon during his disappearance; and Eggs as he investigates a series of seemingly unlinked heart-attack deaths of young people. As the three come closer to one another and are repelled by either choice or circumstances, the question of sacrificing love for safety becomes painfully clear to everyone.
Kepnes, whose previous novels deftly dealt with obsessive love, changes gears here and injects into this "Beauty and the Beast"–like story a deeper allegory about how far we’ll go to protect the things we love the most.