After investigating a local urban legend, a teenage girl is brutally attacked in Gudenkauf’s (Not a Sound, 2017, etc.) latest thriller.
Like nearly every teenager, Cora struggles in middle school. She’s shy and sheltered and tries every day to navigate the stormy social seas of friendships and crushes, even within small town Pitch, Iowa. When Violet and her family move to Pitch, she connects with Cora and helps her begin to come out of her shell, but this is complicated by the on-again, off-again presence of queen bee Jordyn. All three girls end up working together on a social studies project to explore the truth behind an urban legend; they choose to research the story of Joseph Wither, a boy supposedly responsible for the disappearances or deaths of several local high school students across the decades. As they dig deeper into the mystery, Cora begins corresponding online with someone claiming to be Joseph. She knows this could be dangerous, but when her classmates find out and mock her for believing in the legend, Cora decides to meet up with Joseph and prove them wrong. The novel opens with an assault and then slowly unravels the events leading up to that act of violence; also functioning as a mystery, it is not until the very end that the perpetrator is revealed. There are interesting layers of psychology at work here, but it can be exhausting inhabiting the world of these teenage girls, so concerned about appearances, so protective of their own secrets. There is truth there, certainly, but little entertainment.
Draws a rather grim portrait of the trials and battles of adolescence—taken to the extreme.