Greenwood captures the grief of losing a child. The timeline is erratic, unfolding in real time Sally Horner's kidnapping and the aftermath as Frank LaSalle takes her to Atlantic City, Texas, and finally San Jose, California. Beginning in Camden where Sally's mother, Ella, and her elder daughter Susan hold a silent vigil, Greenwood gives voice to Sally and makes it clear why she decided to steal the black marble composition notebook in front of the scarred man at the end of the lunch counter. As his long cigarette-stained fingers dig into the pale mohair of Sally's sweater, Camden courthouse looms before her: "I'm gonna need for you to come with me."
Back at home, Ella lives in "a cage of pain" from her rheumatism, which began not long before her husband, Russell died. Susan had helped take care of Sally, but Susan is married to Al and is eight months pregnant. Ella thinks of Sally's infinite curiosity and her enthusiasm. She's a single bright light in Ella's life, "a solitary shining ray in a dimly lit room."
Greenwood fleshes out the details of LaSalle's immediate crime. Sally wishes she could disappear into the small and dusty room of the rooming house with its sour smells of cabbage and vinegar where "Mr. Warner" ties her up "like a dog," telling her again and again that she's going to jail and that she's broken the law. Ella faces her guilt; she's a gullible woman who believed that Sally was going on vacation for a week and was pleased that someone was showing an interest in being her friend.
While other characters are important, the focus is on Sally as she is abused and raped by LaSalle. People pass her by as if she's "nothing but a ghost." Susan is haunted by the memories of her real father as well as the lingering memories of Russell. As Ella's pain gets worse, the dreams come to her, "a haunting sort of melody played under water." Trapped in a life she cannot endure, she still believes LaSalle's steady parade of lies.
Sally finds herself living in Dallas, befriending gypsy-like Lena. The most pivotal character is Ruth, who aches to protect Sally, knowing in her heart there's something terribly sinister going on with LaSalle. We see Sally becoming the girl who disappeared so long ago. Greenwood uses impressions and opaque descriptions to describe LaSalle as he gets close Sally so that she can feel "the summer heat coming off his skin," close enough that she can "literally smell him." He constantly wants something from her, a sort of hunger, "like a dog eying a bone."
Greenwood creates a particularly emphatic depiction of La Sale's mounting paranoia as the months tick by and he begins to grasp the unspeakable possibility of losing Sally. Chapters from Ella's perspective embody a poetic, non sequitur quality. Ella sits around in her misery, waiting for the phone to ring. When Viv arrives, she tells Ella about what happened at the Woolworth's that day, how the girls tricked Sally and the man pretended he was with the FBI.
Writing a sort of evil fairytale that cloaks teenage innocence behind the Machiavellian desires of a serial rapist, Greenwood captures it all: from Ella, Susan, Al and Ruth to Sister Mary Katherine, who gives Sally a Christmas gift in the form of a beautiful red coat. The author perfectly explores the plight of a vulnerable young girl placed into a world where she is constantly at the mercy of a dangerous, terrifying man.