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Monday, November 21, 2011

Last Norma Fox Mazer Novel Leaves Me Feeling Dreary, Disappointed

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's easy to get lost in the shuffle when you come from a large family, especially one as dysfunctional as the Herberts. Just ask 11-year-old Autumn. She's the youngest of five - all girls - and nothing about her stands out. She's not mature like 17-year-old Beauty; she's not nurturing like 16-year-old Mim; she's not passionate like 14-year-old Stevie; and she's not mentally challenged like 12-year-old Fancy. Autumn's just ... ordinary. Well, as ordinary as it gets in her family.

Even the man who secretly watches the Herbert girls doesn't pick her as a favorite. He's not sure which sister he prefers; he likes watching them all. Everything about them intrigues him - from the way they prance about town, to the way their chatter fills the air around them, to their bright eyes, shiny hair and youthful innocence. If he didn't keep himself under rigorous control, he'd let them know just how he feels. But he can't, he can't. No one can know about his little problem. He doesn't want to go back to jail. Better to stay anonymous and admire his girls from a distance. And wait.

His patience pays off. When Autumn takes off one day after a particularly intense day in the Herbert household, fate delivers her right to his door. He's delighted. She's terrified. He wants her to stay forever. She's desperate to get back to her family, however screwed up they may be. As the days of her captivity wear on, Autumn realizes it's up to her to save herself. Digging deep for the inner strength she needs to survive, Autumn's determined to prove - if not to her family, at least to herself - that she's not invisible, not helpless, not ordinary. Not at all.

The Missing Girl, a chilling psychological thriller by Norma Fox Mazer, is told in alternating voices that give an already intense story added depth and intensity. The Herbert sisters, all realistically flawed, are sympathetic characters, which makes their plight even more affecting. Still, I found their story a little too generic, a little too predictable, a little too reliant on coincidence to be believable. Like all books of this sort, it's also disturbing. Although it does end on a hopeful note, I still found this one too dreary. Ultimately, The Missing Girl - the last book, incidentally, that Mazer wrote before her death in 2009 - left me feeling more disappointed than anything else.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, Girl, Stolen by April Henry, and Circle Nine by Anne Heltzel)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs) and disturbing images/content

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Missing Girl from the generous folks at HarperTeen. Thank you!

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