A missing—presumed dead—woman’s husband and teenage daughter struggle with her absence and the question of whether she is truly gone in this third novel by Brown (This Is Where We Live, 2010, etc.).
Nearly a year after her mother, Billie, disappeared while hiking a wilderness trail in Northern California, Olive, a high school junior, starts having vivid visions. In them, Billie appears in a variety of settings, speaking short, inconclusive sentences that Olive believes mean she wants to be found. But if her mother is alive, why did she disappear? That happens to be the same question Olive’s father, Jonathan, has begun asking himself after learning that Billie lied about several weekend trips she'd taken in the months before she vanished. As he digs deeper, Jonathan uncovers too many secrets to ignore, shaking his understanding of his wife and marriage but otherwise pointing in no particular direction. While he worries that Billie was unfaithful, Olive worries that she’s in danger. Both concerns feel justified; neither feels like the whole story. All the themes here are well-trod. There’s the family coping with loss and its attendant questions. There’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who's revealed to be darker and possibly more dangerous than believed. There’s the supernatural quality of Olive’s visions (is there a medical explanation, and does it matter?). There’s the natural shifting that happens in a family when children turn into teenagers, and there’s the ode on perfect Berkeley motherhood. It's because the author deftly incorporates all these themes into one building mystery, however, that the book is so page-turning. Readers are likely to be unsure of which outcome would be most satisfying until the very end.
Moody but restrained, this is a familiar tale that sets out to upend itself—and succeeds.