A standard courtroom drama gussied up with enough evocative character sketches and atmospheric byways to provide the sheen of the literary without much of the satisfaction.
First up in the long list of characters is Ivory Towles, 14, who's in love with 15-year-old Blake the only way teenagers can be: absolutely, all the time. Of course, he has cheated on her, and is ambivalent about her protests of love, but on the whole their romance doesn't seem the stuff of grownup fiction. No matter: After endless chatter about drinking and coin-toss infatuations—heads, she loves him; tails, she hates his guts—Ivory goes missing, and her body turns up in the woods. The only thing to sort out now is whodunit, and newcomer Kennedy, hugely clumsy in the art of the red herring, lavishes fallow prose on every fruitless lead, marking the impact of the death on Ivory's grieving mother Florence, her husband Duncan, their son Dunc Jr., and the teenaged community, which pours forth poems for the yearbook and dedicates dances to her memory. Hardly a nook in this world is left dark. Kennedy spends hours with detectives at home, girls before mirrors, teachers on lonely walks, and rough-house boys partying through the night—until three years later, during the trial of suspects Blake and Tommy, when even the jury deliberations over the evidence are allotted their own chapters. As might be expected, none of the aggrieved is any more satisfied by the verdict than long-suffering readers will be when they're invited to gnaw these blanched lives still further.
While Kennedy does a fair job of evoking life among young people in poor rural New England, she robs readers of any regret they might feel at never seeing them fulfill their promise. The whole production is marked by a stunning lack of loss.