Picking up the current concerns about bullying and “mean girls,” Goldberg (Wickett's Remedy, 2005, etc.) follows a young woman tracking down a guilty memory from her childhood.
Celia, 32, works as a performance auditor in Chicago, where she lives with her boyfriend Huck, a teacher who is growing impatient with Celia’s unwillingness to commit. Then Celia is overcome by her suppressed memory of the disappearance of her best friend Djuna in fifth grade. Eleven-year-old Celia told authorities that Djuna got into a car with a stranger, but now Celia remembers that she lied; Djuna actually fell into a hole in the woods while they were arguing. Overcome with remorse, Celia returns to her childhood home in New York, to set things right. But her shyly loving parents, who still carry their own parental guilts, assure Celia that her despair at the time of Djuna’s disappearance was too real to be phony. Celia goes online to look for three other friends, Josie, Becky and Leanne, who were walking near the woods with Celia and Djuna that day. As Celia talks to each, she begins to realize that her memory may be confused. Becky saw the car pull away, and Josie saw Djuna get in it. Meanwhile other memories of her childhood come back in snippets, forcing Celia to acknowledge that her culpability may have to do with more than her friend’s death. Celia notes that the mercurial friendship of arguments and reconciliations she had with Djuna was more intimate and intense than even her relationship with Huck. And their friendship centered on their tyrannical domination over the three other girls, especially Leanne, who was poorer than the others and desperate for acceptance. It seems obvious that Djuna was the ringleader until Celia makes a final, painful visit to Djuna’s mother, still mourning the loss of her only child, an outsider herself before Celia befriended her.
Complex, compelling characters who defy pigeonholing override Goldberg’s tendency to map out the plot too neatly.