In Redfearn’s debut novel, a 12-year-old girl investigates the mysteries surrounding her father’s death and her mother’s disappearance.
In 1960 Oklahoma City, young Calley Hill is brimming with curiosity; her favorite poem is even called “To a Child Who Inquires.” When her mother goes missing, she naturally wants to know why and where she is—especially because her policeman father died when she was 4. But kids, she says, are “never allowed to question grown-ups,” even when the adults seem to know more than they’re letting on. The inquisitive Calley is tomboyish, intelligent and brave, and she loves and respects her elders. Her aunt and uncle look after her and expect her to follow the usual summer routine, spending Saturdays at Miss Caldwell’s nursing home, full of “old people smell,” where her Grandma Hill lives and works. Some of the residents—including a disabled, mute man named Buddy—give her the creeps, but she has affection for others, such as Mrs. Smith, who keeps yearly scrapbooks of news events, obituaries and the like. These scrapbooks “sorely tempted my curiosity,” Calley says, but she’s not allowed to see any articles from the current year, nor from 1952, the year of her father’s death. However, she continues to question and investigate and soon uncovers shocking secrets. Redfearn ably builds an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, using her nursing home setting—a dilapidated Victorian mansion—to full advantage. At times, the novel takes on the spooky quality of a dream, in which one keeps discovering new rooms in familiar places. The author also makes the adults’ silence plausible, if frustrating: “My father’s family kept busy when they were troubled and didn’t talk about things that upset them. My mother said it was because of the Depression.” In the end, a truly shocking surprise twist helps readers make sense of the complicated plot.
A fine mystery novel with a likable, insatiably curious narrator.