Brown, a marriage and family therapist, examines a family in midcrisis when the 14-year-old daughter runs away, leaving her parents struggling with demons of their own.
Rachel and Paul recently moved with their daughter, Marley, from San Francisco to a smaller town in a rural part of California, abandoning their friends and Marley’s budding social life for what they hope will be something better. But Rachel has no idea how negatively the move has affected her daughter until she finds a message on the kitchen whiteboard indicating that Marley has run away from home. Despite Rachel’s initial fears that Marley might have been abducted, Paul and the police believe the girl took off, and Paul hires a publicist to keep the case in the headlines. Now, Rachel is trying desperately not only to find Marley, but to figure out what prompted the girl's flight. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Rachel and Marley during the days after Marley’s departure, Brown explores the reasons Marley left, as well as her parents' suppositions about why she left. Marley's is the more authentic voice of the two and the most sympathetic—a typical young girl on the cusp of womanhood, anxious to rush that process along while looking for love and acceptance. Rachel, however, nurses a secret that could change everything, including her relationships with both her daughter and husband. Brown does a credible job of following Marley’s progression as she hurtles toward change, but Rachel’s case is different. In addition to her often jumbled thoughts and paranoia, she’s neither sympathetic nor likable, making it easy to empathize with Marley and her decision to flee her self-centered mother.
Brown’s take on the family’s personal dynamics proves insightful, but families of real runaway teens will shake their heads at the kind of police and media attention the author blithely assumes this type of case would draw.