The Girl Without a Name
Sandra Block
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Buy *The Girl Without a Name* by Sandra Blockonline

The Girl Without a Name
Sandra Block
Grand Central Publishing
368 pages
September 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A quick read, Block’s The Girl Without a Name again features her afflicted heroine, Dr. Zoë Goldman. Zoe still works in the children’s psych ward at a Buffalo Hospital and still battles her ADHD and the scattered and ridiculous thoughts that seem to come with it. She remains haunted by the events of the previous novel, Little Black Lies: her adopted mother’s death and the secret that surrounded her birth mother, who died when Zoe was young. Zoe’s trusted therapist, Alan, blames her sudden panic attacks and her slowed cognition on depression and grief. Only the drug Adderall seems to calm Zoe’s frayed nerves.

While the atmosphere of the novel isn't quite as eerie as the cover suggests, the purposeful descriptions of a chilly Buffalo do lend the novel a sinister feel--a sort of contemporary missing-persons mystery in which Zoe is tasked with discovering the identity of Jane Doe, a thirteen-year-old African-American girl who has been admitted to the hospital suffering from some sort of catatonia. Jane becomes the central mystery and a mission of sorts for Zoe, who sees a kindred spirit in this dazed, filthy girl who sits in her bed with her clothes torn, staring blankly into space.

Jane is apparently unharmed, and there’s no signs of bruising or rape. According to the ER, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her physically. Zoe’s boss, Dr. Tad Berringer, ups the ante, giving Jane the strongest of psych drugs while detailing a regimen of shock treatment. Jane, however, remains unchanged, like she’s stuck “in a freeze frame,” staring forwards in her blank hospital room rather than outside at the picture-perfect day with its bright blue, cloudless sky.

The sleepless nights and the need for Xanax to numb the pain of her past spur Zoe on to discover the identity of Jane. Zoe’s own biological family history is strewn with meth addicts and heroin fiends, not to mention garden-variety alcoholics, so it's not surprising that this nameless, faceless, vulnerable girl really gets to her. Using Facebook to create a profile of a missing teenager who may go by Daneesha or Candy Jones, Zoe tries to retrace the girl’s last moments. Zoe can’t shake the feeling there’s something huge, right in front of her face--that there’s some way to help Jane that she’s missing.

The busy hospital setting in which Zoe interacts with Tad Berringer and the other nurses and doctors amplifies the tension. Block’s short, brief chapters help keep the pages flipping by as well. She’s great at presenting the daily grind of the hospital mechanics, the noise of the overhead speakers, and the food carts that constantly rattle by, as well as the medical students who seem to perpetually scamper around. All of this adds to the realistic atmosphere of the novel.

There is also plenty of relationship drama here and a shifting chronology, propelled by the events of the earlier novel. Zoe clearly loves her current boyfriend, pragmatic Mike (also an ER doctor), but she also holds a candle for her ex, Jean-Luc, who is getting married in Paris to a girl Zoe can’t stand. Scotty, her brother who works at the local coffee shop and isa computer guru, decides to help his sister with her search. Enigmatic Tad Berringer at first glance may be smart and attractive and a “wunderkind” of sorts, but in reality, he hides a much darker secret. As Zoe works with Detective Adams to solve the riddle of the identity of a girl called Janita (another missing girl and perhaps a sister to Jane/Daneesha/Candy), a series of clues are the break that both the doctor and the detective need.

From hints of pedophilia, to Candy, who perpetually stares out dead-eyed, to Zoe’s mind, spiraling unendingly over and over with snippets of conversations and thoughts, the swirling obfuscations of Tad Berringer hint at an investigation remaining precisely unclear. Block does a good job of providing clues while keeping the reader in the dark. In the end, as the pieces begin to fall tightly into place for Zoe, it is suave Tad Berringer who must pay the ultimate price.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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