Although I read this novel in one sitting, horribly fascinated, I am ambivalent about a tale that lets all the monsters out of the closet and fills the night with shrieks. The landscape of childhood holds a sacred place in memory, the precious time before innocence is shattered. These years are not easily surrendered to the horrors of the world.
Best friends Lizzie Hood and Evie Verver, both thirteen, have almost graduated middle school in their Midwestern suburban community, anticipating another lazy summer before high school in the fall. But when Evie disappears one afternoon, not only is her family thrown into chaos, but Lizzie is completely unmoored. Lizzie wants so badly to know something, to help, that she inserts herself as closely into Evie’s family as possible, alert to every emotional nuance of their agonizing wait for the investigation to provide answers.
Abbott writes her novel from inside Lizzie’s head - from the desperate, shattered perspective of a young girl on the edge of womanhood, romantic notions mixed with common sense. Reality is warped by the emotional immaturity of a thirteen-year-old girl who shapes reality from what makes her comfortable, resisting too much knowledge, even when shared with Evie. Each has kept secrets, formed the edges of separate identity. Now wonder and curiosity are replaced by fear and the growing awareness of powerlessness. Caught between childhood and a dawning of womanhood, Lizzie knows things she is not prepared to acknowledge, embarking on a quest to bring the absent Evie home, Nancy Drew come to life.
For all the potential horror of Evie’s fate, there is more - a darker place where Lizzie treads carefully, blindly, a landscape salted with landmines that reverberate beyond the careful structure of her days with Evie, when they chose what to know and what not to know. Without a father in the home, Lizzie is particularly vulnerable, the space Evie filled yawning, fraught with danger.
This is a tough subject. Abbott tackles it, unflinching, guiding her protagonist to the cliff, where all is revealed. Perhaps the emotional burdens of this novel are too weighty for a thirteen-year-old to navigate, the end of everything. Suddenly “rape” cracks through the clear air of a land where boys and curiosity reign, where true love means forever, not shame or blood and bruises, romance without blemish. Now predators masquerade as teachers, neighbors, a smile, a random touch no longer simple gesture - the trustworthiness of what you know versus what you suspect.
Should the truth be spoken even between friends? Are we complicit in the loss of innocence? Lizzie slips between girl and woman, unable to take possession of either. Pretty treacherous territory for a teen, especially a fatherless girl whose lonely mother clings to a married man and a brother barely tolerates. Sleeping Beauty is on the cusp of awakening from her slumber, fantasy become nightmare.